Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Fait accompli!

wee little baby sweaterMorehouse Merino mostly had kits at Rhinebeck, but then I remembered a niece who is due to give birth to a boy next month. Bingo! I picked up the Baby's First Merino Sweater kit, which you see (in almost complete form, missing blocking and buttons) here.

The pattern was a blast, with nary a seam to be found. The yarn was plush and tasty, although it was chock full o'vegetable matter and pulled apart in thin spots. I fully expect this sweater to meet an untimely fate with a washing machine, but still... Every baby deserves to be clothed in this kind of deliciousness, if even for a brief moment.

Count Casey

And on the homefront, Mr. Casey is as charming as ever. Who can resist that face? Certainly not I.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Report from Rhinebeck... or, what happens when you send two old friends on a road trip

Two weeks ago my oldest and dearest friend boarded a plane in California and ventured east. Her destination was the great state of Maine, where I awaited her with open arms and ample luggage space. Our mission: A good old-fashioned road trip to the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York.

I've already reported on the festival itself in Knitter's Review—so when we get to that part of the story, you can bounce over to KR for a festival peek. But if you're hankering to do a little armchair travel of the girly road-trip variety, hang onto your seat and start reading.

mmmmm, coffeeeee...

We began as I begin every day, with an infusion of fresh hot caffeine. Here's proof why my local coffee house is the finest on the planet.

clear sailing

After our coffee and a quick stop to get my car oil changed (I tend to procrastinate with these things), we were on the road. Clear skies and smooth sailing!

the saddest sign this side of the Mississippi

By the time we made it through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and most of Connecticut, we were ready for some nourishment of the East Coast diner variety. My favorite is the Blue Colony Diner just outside of Danbury. As you can see by this attractive sign, the diner takes marketing very seriously.

burpThe Blue Colony Menu is a 12-page ode to American cuisine. At first you're excited to see so much comfort food on the menu. Turkey! Meatloaf! Roast ham! By page 6, it becomes more of an archaeological dig into diners of the past. How the meager kitchen staff can cover so much territory is beyond me.

I stuck with turkey and was presented with a platter the size of a human head. This picture shows my moderately flavorful repast after I'd admitted defeat. My friend Theresa is playing Vannah White for the shot.

The best of Best WesternBecause every room in Rhinebeck was already booked or priced at $650 per night (I kid you not), Theresa had the forethought to book a room at the illustrious Best Western Inn and Conference Center in Poughkeepsie, New York. (The outside sign had a few technical glitches, so it was actually an Inn and Conference Enter.)

And as you can see here, hotel room decor has not advanced much since the 1980s. (Note my dear spokesmodel's hand waving to the camera. Classy stuff.)

Rhinebeck upon Rhine

Don't you think that on one's first trip to Poughkeepsie, one ought to have a room with a view? This view was a welcome distraction from another matter—as it turned out, my cell phone only worked if I hung halfway out the window.

Joy, joy, and IHOP!On our first night we failed to see the Conference Enter sign for our hotel, so we kept on driving until well past Poughkeepsie. Oops. But while on our test run, we scoped out the chain restaurant situation for Saturday breakfast. Let joy be unconfined, an IHOP! First thing Saturday morning (er... ok not so first thing, but still it was technically morning), we headed up the road for some good old-fashioned breakfast fare.

enough!Burp. OK, enough old-fashioned breakfast fare. I'm fasting for the next six months.

At this point we move you to the official Knitter's Review New York Sheep & Wool Festival report for shots of our festival adventures.

enough!In my Knitter's Review report, I claimed that this was my entire haul from the show. But here's the sad truth: It was only from the first day. By the second day, the entire back seat was also full of fiber. Theresa refused to accept any responsibility for her part in the gluttony, accusing instead her evil twin. Where can I get one of those?

the glories of Rhinebeck

Having loaded up our booty on Saturday, we headed into the great metropolis of Rhinebeck for sustenance. Chez Fancy-Food I, II, and III were all booked...

steak-frites...but we found a great old place (whose name I promptly forgot) on the "main drag" that was sort of a cross between an ice cream parlor and French bistro. Here we see the remains of a filet mignon with perfectly seasoned French fries and a dish of mushrooms and onions in a madeira sauce. And our spokesmodel's hand, just in case you forgot where we were.

a healthier morningIt's hard to calm down after this kind of a day, so we lugged our booty into the hotel (much to the amusement of the hotel staff) and poured over it with greedy glee. Despite the fact that the Conference Enter also happened to have a popular comedy club and thin walls, we finally managed to get to sleep.

The next morning, I awoke to what I imagine would have sounded like rainfall (had we been on the top floor of our hotel). We groaned past IHOP and opted for a marvelous bakery/cafe in Rhinebeck. There's something undeniably delicious about sitting by a window on a rainy day, coffee in hand, watching the world go by.

And here's where our pictorial journey ends. We spent the rest of the day at the festival getting increasingly cold, finally throwing in the towel at around 4pm. Theresa was exhausted and fighting a col.. um... allergies, so she fell fast asleep as we headed back south through Poughkeepsie and back onto the freeway.

The drive home was stressful and unexciting in that end-of-vacation way, although the fun continued back home. The temps grew cooler, and at one point Maine even treated my guest to a brief snow shower (thus ruining my hopes of her ever moving here), so we holed up inside with a fire and a nonstop parade of delicious chick flicks: Notting Hill, America's Sweethearts, Bridget Jones' Diary, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, and almost every episode from the Vicar of Dibley.

Several years ago I taught Theresa how to knit, and she returned the favor later by teaching me how to spin. What a rare treat to be able to share such a deep interest with someone who happens to have been your dear friend for more than 20 years. As she put it, "priceless."

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

the field before its yearly haircutFuture home of sheep, alpacas, angora goats, and perhaps a water buffalo or two, before its annual shearing.
hey, there's land under there!And after its annual shearing. The pictures are small and dark, so use your imagination. And no, I don't think I'll add a water buffalo.
I'm guessing that fencing and lodging will be the two biggest expenses associated with Operation Fiber Freedom. Fencing is a must because we have coyotes, foxes, neighboring dogs, hungry bald eagles, and an enthusiastically embraced hunting season.

Lodging for Said Animals is also a must. Yes, I have a huge barn, but it's attached to the house, needs loads of work, and is already full of stuff. Hopefully my little four-legged friends won't need berber carpet and a Viking range in the kitchen.

My two favorite books on this subject are both by Paula Simmons. The first book, Raising Sheep the Modern Way, is a great way to dissuade any amateur weekend warriors from raising sheep—and that's the one I read when fantasy takes over and I need a reality check. Boy oh boy does it look like a lot of work.

And the second book, Turning Wool into a Cottage Industry, gives me hope. It's somewhat dated, but still an inspiration for anyone who wants to make this his or her livelihood. Does anybody else have good reference recommendations?

Sunday, October 5, 2003

Leaving the Life of Leisure

You all raise a good point - my working-for-free comments aren't limited to knitting, they can be found in almost any field. My apologies to any male reader I might offend with the next generalizations, but if you look back at history, society has not encouraged women to conquer the world of big business.

In the Victorian days, for example, it was considered extremely gauche for women to a) work or b) collect money for their efforts, if they did insist on doing something outside of the home. Not only was it in poor taste, but it reflected poorly on their husbands who were supposed to be keeping them fat, sassy, and happily embroidering away in their sitting rooms (not to mention dependent).

Obviously we've come a long, long way. But I still argue with my otherwise progressive brother who insists that there is no discrimination against women in the workplace. The solid stats about women's vs. men's pay (and my own personal experiences) doesn't sway him one bit. So we just have to pass the mashed potatoes and change the subject.

At times like these, I fall back into daydreams of cutting loose from the grid completely. Screw 'em all, I say. Getting solar cells and a wind generator, heating with wood, eating from my garden, and, perhaps most appealing of all, raising my own animals for fiber. What could be more satisfying than putting on a sweater whose fiber came from your very own animals?

Yesterday the field got its fall shearing, which always brings up my sheep envy. We have this large, beautiful sloping field just begging for animals. I know it's a heck of a lot of work, but hey... Why not?

The current vote is for Shetland sheep because of their small size, intelligent temperament, and cold-hardy frames. I'd also like two angora goats for their fiber and hilarious personalities. And for protection, why not a grumpy but lovable llama named Pedro?

I'm very excited to see the animals at Rhinebeck this year and continue to research the dream.
And now, it's time for some photos. First we have a shot of my latest project, a simple pullover turtleneck (knit in the round using a pattern that evolves as I knit) using Filatura di Crosa Antibe. The yarn was in the bargain basket at Grace Robinson in Freeport, and I was in a mood to acquire. So there you are.Filatura di Crosa Antibe turtleneck
My love affair with The Copper Moth continues. I seem to be on a semimonthly order schedule with them. This time we have a bag of Blue-Faced Leicester in Tea Rose (this is the second order - I spun up my first batch, which you see here - and had to get more) and a new batch in Sea Foam. Her colors are exquisite, and they're all from natural dye sources. The fiber spins up like a dream.yum yum yum
When the frost arrives on the pumpkins, the first thing I do is whip up a batch of my grandma's English Christmas Cake. A storm blew in late yesterday, so I closed up shop, came home, started a roaring fire, and made my first batch of cake for the season. It is chock full of currants and raisins and dried cherries and citron and nutmeg, among other things. Second to knitting, this cake is a failproof way of conjuring up my beloved grandma's spirit.this cake signals the arrival of fall
And of course, Mr. Casey had to plunk himself down in the middle of the kitchen floor to watch and distract. But that's ok. How could you get mad at a mug like this one?Why are you doing all this baking when you could be petting me instead?

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

The furnace came on for the first time last night, signaling the real beginning of fall. This morning I celebrated by donning my favorite brushed mohair cardigan (a Classic Elite pattern using Halcyon's "house" brand of brushed mohair) and venturing out into the world for a walk.

Everything inspires me creatively these days. I seem to notice potential pictures and color designs everywhere I look. My only wish is that I actually had the time to follow through on the inspiration with action. Instead, I feel like I'm surrounded by partially begun projects and great intentions.

On the other side of the scale, far from the land of la-dee-da creativity, I am struggling with the strange double-standard in the knitting "business."

You have many, many people who turn to it for personal and creative solace during a day occupied with other activities (including jobs that help support their passion for knitting). And then you have the few, enterprising, potentially crazy folks (I count myself in this category) for whom it is both a passion and a profession.

But the one-for-all spirit of knitting can seriously get in the way of anybody doing this as a business where bottom line is as important as generosity and kindness.

Here's an example: I was recently approached about writing a book. The topic was exceptional and I knew I could do a fantastic job with it. And yet when I calculated the time and travel required to write the book, I realized that not only would I not make money, I'd actually lose money if I took on the project.

The sheer joy of writing about knitting and seeing my name in print was supposed to be compensation enough. That's a noble idea if, say, you have another full-time job or trust fund to support you. But if this is your profession, it just doesn't float. The whole experience left me troubled and deeply discouraged.

Doing loads of work for free (or at a barely living wage) seems to be a common motivation in the knitting world. This generosity is part of what makes knitters so wonderful, but it also makes it really, really hard from a business perspective.

I'm constantly getting requests to donate patterns and pictures and articles and products to mostly worthy causes. Again and again, the argument is an enthusiastic, "We can't pay you for your work, but your name will be in print!"

I help when I can, but I'm increasingly forced to say no. How do we balance the generous community spirit of knitting with the business that supports knitters with patterns, projects, and instruction? Is it possible to engage in a bit of both without alienating any parties?

I don't know. But this is my struggle today.

So I shall escape into Kaffe Fassett's exquisite new pattern library, which I'm reviewing this week. My list of mentors and heroes is a short one, and he is at the top.