Monday, December 22, 2008

winter wonder

Last week I hopped on jet plane heading east through the blue, blue sky

to return to a land of conifers and fresh snowfall,

a land of wintry beauty,

old Bean boots and Flexible Flyer sleds,

sledding mishaps

and snow angels

Ah, New England, how I love you.

Knitting post to come soon, but it's all hush-hush the week before Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Saguaro Post

Last weekend, we headed east out of Phoenix for a day of climbing in the Superstition Mountains. I had two goals, outside of climbing: first, to take an iconic Saguaro cactus photograph ...

and second, to photograph my newly-knit, Saguaro-inspired, rock-climbing legwarmers.

I think I did passably well, but both tasks were more challenging than expected. The sheer immensity of the cacti is difficult to capture. And saguaros are really wild and irregular!! Some shoot straight up into the sky for 30 feet, all spindly and phallic and waving in wind.

Others are veritable octopi, with an explosion of branches and nubbins.

I found an amazing fan shaped saguaro as tall as a 3-story building.

And another that was eerily humanoid.

They can be entracingly beautiful and perfect, with smooth jade skin that turns to gold at sunset.

Or they can be intruigingly warped, sagging from the weight of the branches

and wizened and blackened by fire.

Although I began looking for the perfect saguaro, I found my eye increasingly drawn to their variety and strangeness.

All the while, my mind kept returning to thoughts about beauty and the body, as brought up in recent articles about the late Bettie Page. Manohla Dargis articulated how, in our modern, explicit-but-airbrushed world, we've become "less alive to the beauty, the poetry, and the mysteries of the naked body." This line really resonated with me. What draws me into Page's photos is a woman's body in all its natural contours and textures. I'm seriously fascinated by getting to see a stomach and ribs.

Anyways, I'm kind of getting off topic, but somehow my mind was making a connection between Bettie Page and these saguaros that has to do with the unexpected beauty, poetry, and mystery of imperfection.

Oh, I almost forgot about the legwarmers:

My ankles and calves can get chilled when I'm rock climbing, as the harness kind of hikes up one's pants and leave the lower legs exposed. I whipped these up out of superwash wool that's been hibernating in my stash for almost a decade. Super quick and greatly appreciated by my cold ankles.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Saga of the Art Party

The time has come for me to tell the saga of the Holiday Art Party. It was a holiday gathering for Mountain Man's department with the added attraction of crafts and performances by the artistic types. It was a splendid idea. I was really looking forward to it. But it was such a tremendous amount of stress for me in the end.

Granted, there were some parts of the process that were pure bliss, like dyeing up the color samples. I started with a big hank of alum-mordanted wool yarn. I was constantly coming home with strange plants in my pockets and unusual herbs in my groceries. Wondrous aromas arose from the dyepot, and wondrous colors came out!

Mountain Man crafted this wooden rack for me, and it's so beautiful that I think I'm going to keep it on display in my office (albeit without the fir garland and crocheted ornaments). Here are some close-ups of the yarns:

L-R: fermented prickly pear, cochineal, cochineal exhaust, local cochineal, annatto, madder, madder exhaust, turmeric, creosote bush, onionskins

L-R: marigold, fermented eucalyptus, african sumac, desert broom, chamomile, myrtle, Mt. Lemmon marigold (a local desert plant), ivy, pomegranate, juniper

L-R: indigo over african sumac, african sumac with iron dip, indigo over cochineal, indigo, black rice, fresh hibiscus flowers, dried hibiscus flowers with ammonia dip, rosemary, oak galls and iron, pecan hulls, walnut hulls, coffee

I FINALLY got my indigo vat to ferment in time for this fair, so I had some beautiful colors to fill out the cool part of the spectrum of samples. However, I didn't dye any larger hanks of yarn blue or green. I was running late on time, tried to rush the dyeing, and over-oxygenated the indigo vat.

The yarn that I did dye for sale was in cochineal pinks, african sumac yellows, and creosote tan (not pictured -- that sold!). The base yarns are wool and alpaca from a variety of small farms.

It's a happy, sunny looking tray of yarns. But remember those rainy days over Thanksgiving? Thanks to the rain and the humid days that followed, the yarn didn't dry in time. I finished them off in a low oven the morning of the art party. And there was a tragedy: midway through the baking, I switched the oven to convect without realizing that it would switch the flames from the bottom to the top of the oven. One of the loveliest skeins got scorched, which had me bursting into tears just an hour or so before I needed to pack up and head to the party.

Anyways, here's a close-up of the tags, which (in contrast to the yarns themselves) were a success. I made them myself in a letterpress class. I started with a fern from our backyard, which I scanned and manipulated into a black and white image. I sent that image off to be made into a letterpress stamp, and then I hand-set the lettering with vintage type.

In addition to the dyed yarn, I spent an enormous amount of time planning and swatching for small finished items. It was an interesting process, because it was the first time that I was thinking about knitting in a production-oriented way. I enjoyed thinking about my hobby with a different part of my brain. But, I must say, it was more difficult than I'd expected to come up with items that were appropriate for this place.

I ended up with just two things. One was the star ornaments that you see in the first picture, which are crocheted out of organic wool from the Zen Sheep Farm (it was a bit scratchy to wear, but its fuzzy halo was perfect for these stars).

The other thing I made were knitted, naturally dyed, and hand-felted bangles out of a minimally-processed wool. I love to see all their colors in this bowl: pink, yellow, green, and blue in addition to the natural white, brown, and gray.

I've been wearing them three at a time, in various colors. Only one person bought any of these bangles, so I've got the whole range of them at my beck and call ....

In the end, it was quite a small display, and I don't think anyone would believe how much work went into creating it. Certainly I never would've imagined the stress involved in trying to get the fermentation vats to cooperate (eucalyptus and prickly pear worked, indigo kind of worked, and avocado peels and orchil lichen were duds), trying to get everything dried in time, singeing my yarn, searching the world over to borrow a ball winder, wasting all kinds of time trying to come up with original small patterns, and so forth. I was proud of my little display ....

and I was happy to share my craft with everyone. But, man, did it take a lot out of me!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Cave Creek & Chocolate Shawlette

To recover from Thanksgiving, Mountain Man and I went for an 8 mile hike along Cave Creek, which is about an hour and a half north of Phoenix. It's a beautiful and unusual spot because the creek -- which is hidden among the rugged, cactus-covered hills -- is an oasis of sycamore trees. Finally, a breath of real autumn, with bright foliage and the earthy aroma of wet leaves!

As it was a chilly, steely-skied, slightly rainy day, I was glad to have along my latest quick knit. It's yet another Storm Cloud, this time in Artesano Inca Cloud in 'milk chocolate.' It's a beautiful, super soft alpaca yarn with a soft drape that's perfect for this pattern.

You're probably getting tired of seeing these. But I'm definitely not tired of knitting them.

Or wearing them! If I were still in Vermont, I'd be switching my knitting attentions to warmer, denser garments. But here in Arizona, they're the perfect thing to stave off a slight chill.

With this one, I only did half the increases on Row 70. That way, I could extend it a little without getting that prissy ruffle. You can see on the bottom how it has just the hint of fullness. I think I'm going to do the rest this way too!