Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Infinite Variety

I am still awed and inspired by the American Folk Art Museum's fabulous show, "Infinite Variety, Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts". It was at the Park Avenue Armory March 25-30.  The show was a gift to the city from Joanna S. Rose. Mrs. Rose has collected over 650 red and white quilts over the past 50 years. This show was free to the public, and just amazing.. I heard audible gasps when people entered the great room.
The quilts were suspended from the ceiling and seemed to float in mid-air. They glowed.

The name of the exhibit was certainly apt. The endless variety of pattern and design that these women created from two colors of cloth was incredible. And think of it. Many of these quilts were made entirely by hand. The sewing machine was not patented until the 1850's. Probably most women could not afford them for many years afterwards.

Look at the tiny quilting stitches on this quilt. Gorgeous.

Red. What is it about this color that is so enticing? It is the color of blood and the color of fire. Perhaps it stirs some archetypal emotion in us. It is the color of desire and anger, life and death.

In the 21st Century, we take red cloth for granted. But for the 18th and 19th C women who made these quilts, cheap, red fabric that did not fade was a relatively novel invention.

Throughout history, the color red was very prestigous. For centuries, clothing made in the color red was worn only by royalty and the very rich. Very few could actually afford it.

Traditionally, natural dye stuffs were used to create red cloth. Madder, the root of a shrub, makes a weak and fugitive red. Kermes, an insect which feeds on the Kermes oak tree was used for centuries in Europe to dye cloth red. Kermes was so valuable that it was used as a tribute to Roman soldiers in exchange for protection. By the 14th Century, kermes red was the most expensive, exclusive color that one could wear.

When Europeans discovered the New World, they also discovered a new dye that was to have a huge impact of European history. Native Americans used cochineal, a beetle that lives on the nopal cactus, to produce a vivid, less fugitive red. The Spanish government was soon importing tons of it to Europe. They maintained a monopoly on this bug for 250 years. (If the concept of using dead beetle bodies to color cloth is disturbing to you, consider that red food dye #E120 contains cochineal, and is used in Skittles and Cherry Coke.)
It was not until the 1870's that red dyes were created synthetically, lowering the cost and allowing anyone to enjoy this gorgeous and desirable color.

This quilt was one of my favorites. What is the meaning of these symbols? So mystical.

Love this one. Who's names are these? Family members?

I could have photographed every single quilt. But the battery on my cell was running low. I can't wait to buy the catalogue when it becomes available.

Thank you, Mrs. Rose!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What I did on my snow-cation

There is nothing like a snowy day, or days, to inspire one to get busy making things. During the Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010, I made: Roast Turkey, Butter Toffee Crunch, Beef Barley Soup, Marinara Sauce, Chicken Stock, Roast Duck, Chile, Buttermilk Pancakes and homemade bread (twice). Luckily, I have a teenage son who eats like one, or I would also be making a trip to my nearest health club.

When I worked in yarn stores, snowy days would be some of our busiest times. This is why having a stash is so important. You need to have enough yarn stashed to knit absolutely anything that springs to mind. I will not post a photo of my stash, as it would be too embarrassing.

Of course, one does not live by bread alone. I also made this:
It is my version of a Knitlab's beautiful shawl called Blackbird. Just enough lace to keep you interested, but not enough that you can't knit it after a long day at work:

I also finished up some sewing that has been in the queue:
I had 1/2 yard of wool boucle that had been languishing in my fabric stash. In my creative life, I sometimes find that my most inspired moments come when I go with a design decision quickly, before I let the "no"s take over. If this case, I folded the fabric in half lengthways, gave it a moebius half twist and committed it to the sewing machine before I could talk myself out of it.
It's a very versatile piece, and has cushy warrmth, and took all of five minutes to make.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Greatest Yarns Ever, continued

Years ago, I heard the story of a mitten knitter, who never finished a pair without immediately casting on another. She would say, "The day that I do not have a mitten on the needles, is the day that I will be dead." The years went by, and her hands stayed busy, providing much comfort to cold hands in her family and community. One evening, as her gnarled, weary hands finished another pair, she calmly wove in the ends in the mitten, and lovingly put away her needles, and went to bed.
She never woke up.
Now, knitters are a superstitious group. So, I never finish a sock without immediately casting on another. Of course, since I usually have at least four pair on the needles at any given time, I believe myself to be pretty safe. But, hey, you never know.

As a devoted sock knitter, I would be remiss in not including what I believe to be the most delicious sock yarn ever.
Last week, I came home from work, foot sore and cold. I put on one of my pairs of socks knit from Mountain Colors, Bearfoot, and immediately sighed in pleasure and comfort. Yum.

Bearfoot is a blend of 60% Superwash Wool, 25% Mohair, and 15% Nylon. It washes in the machine beautifully, and is a dream to knit. The colors are glorious. The color below is Eureka.

This is an amazing sock yarn, and my all time favorite.

I use size 2 needles, and cast on 64 stitches. And while I truly admire the complex, gorgeous patterns for socks out there, when it comes to socks, I just want to knit around on autopilot. I always have a sock next to the telephone, and one in the car in case of a breakdown. If I have to wait for AAA, I will have a soothing, mindless project to calm my nerves.

This colorway is Sapphire Trail, and the sock that I will be knitting next.
Spring can't be far off, but you still have time to crank out a pair of cozy, soft, luxurious socks for yourself.
Knit on.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Chillblains and Fingernail Polish

I have long adhered to a suggestion of Joseph Campbell- if you read a book that really moves you, then read that writer's entire body of work. In the early 1980's I began a journey through the books of Charles Dickens.

His evocative characters, exposure of the indignities and ignorance of poverty, and marvelous story lines held me spell bound through the years. Dickens is not subtle. There is no moral ambiguity. If a person is unkempt or slovenly, they are sure to be thoroughly and terminally bad. This appealed to me in my youth. I also enjoyed mentally living in this world.

So, when, in my thirties, I started experiencing little cuts around my finger tips, I thought of Bob Cratchit, hovering over a tiny flame in  Old Scrooge's office.

Chillblains. Through the miracle of the internet machine, I now know that chillblains are an inflammation of the small blood vessels on your extremities. I provide you with this definition to spare you from the horrible photos produced when googling the word, "chillblains". But years ago, to my romantic imagination, it sounded like a perfect word for a condition that until recently, I thought only Bob Cratchit and I suffered.

Now, I know that my friends Lupie and Gail have that condition also.

Imagine half a dozen deep paper cuts around the tips of your fingers and around your cuticles. It is more than inconvenient. It is quite painful.

Bandaids are expensive and futile. Liquid Bandage is an excellent option. When you put it on, expect about 5 seconds of pain. Once it dries, expect the cut to clear up in a few days.

This winter (it seems to be a cold weather condition) I have been experimenting. This seems to be the most effective treatment. Try it before bed in the morning:

1. Wash your hands.
2. Put Lotil cream on your hands, rubbing it into the little cuts.
3. Next morning, put clear fingernail polish on the cuts.

YES. I sincerely believe that clear, cheap, 99 cent fingernail polish is identical to "Liquid Bandage". I will probably get a rude message from the makers of Liquid Bandage. But that is my story, and I am sticking to it.
So, no yarn or knitting for this post. But hopefully, it will help all of you crafters out there.

Monday, January 11, 2010

We interrupt our yarn series for this important announcement

The freakish cold weather across much of the US prompts this beauty service announcement for knitters.
Are you hands feeling like leather? Does the yarn catch on those dry nasty bits on your cuticles? Do you cringe when you reach out to shake someone's hand?
Somewhere along the line, I learned this very effective technique for resurfacing your hands. Try it before knitting lace, no matter what the weather.
First, get all of your supplies together near the sink. This may be a little messy, but worth it.
  1. 3 Tablespoons of sugar
  2. 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  3. Paper towels
  4. Hand soap. I like Dove. Many dermatologists recommend it, as does Consumer Reports.
Wet your hands. Pour olive oil into the palm of your hands and rub it into your skin. Add the sugar, and SCRUB. Concentrate on your cuticles, and those icky bits. Rinse, wash your hands with soap.
See? Silky smooth. Now apply a good hand cream. (that is another post!)

If your hands are like armadillo skin, try pure lanolin. It is usually with the breastfeeding supplies in your local drugstore. I personally like the smell (sort of), but many people object to its "sheepiness". I do notice that my cats will not sleep on my bed when I have it on.
You can rub it in and then slip on a pair of white cotton gloves.
In the morning, try the sugar scrub technique.

And you think you have problems? Here is a link to a fun hand cream commerical:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Greatest Yarn, #5: Rowan Kidsilk Haze

In the pantheon of great yarns, Kidsilk Haze is right up there.

I have always had a not-so-secret fondness for Rowan. In fact, I have told my family that when I die, I would appreciate a couple of ounces of my ashes being scattered over the Rowan Headquarters.

As far as innovation and pattern support goes, Rowan is is an industry leader. This is my rule for looking at Rowan pattern magazines: the first time you look, be aware that all you may see is the styling. If you are..."of a certain age" you may think that the sweaters are too crazy for you. I usually think, "crap, there is not a single sweater that I could wear." Look a couple of hours later, and you will start actually seeing the gorgeous details of the knitted pieces themselves, and then you will start trying to decide which sweater you wish to knit first. You have to spend a bit of time with the magazine to see past the editorial excesses.

Admittedly, Rowan is so darn expensive. Why?

The colors, and even the color names, are a delight.
Above, a skein of Rowan Kidsilk Haze in Drab and Candy Girl.

More KSH eye candy:



The luster of the silk, and the haze of the kid mohair, is incredible. Kidsilk Haze is a very versatile lace weight yarn.

I would recommend a size US3 needle for working singly. For lace work, try a US7. It can be doubled at DK gauge on a size US6 needle.
The pattern support for Kidsilk Haze cannot be beat:

This one is definitely in my queue..

This one used to be, hence the stash of single skeins of many colors.

Kidsilk Haze in color Marmalade

Here is a lovely scarf, called "Trinket" by Kim Hargraeves from her book, Amber. It uses 3 balls of Kidsilk Haze. I made it in Cascade Yarns, Kid Seta, which is virutally the same yarn. I may make it again in KSH, Hurricane:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Most Delicious Yarn You Have Never Heard Of (possibly)

(Ok, so I ended a phrase with a preposition.)
This is Cormo, by Foxhill Farms in Massachusetts. AMAZING stuff.

I am a farm yarn freak. And I love natural colors. My friend Karen, who is quite the yarn connoiseur, turned me on to this yarn some years ago. I have been hoarding it ever since in my stash. This yarn is so soft, so squishy, so amazingly beautiful. It feels like the most resilient cotton. I cannot praise it highly enough.

When I Googled it, to come up with a link for you to read about it, I found that many bloggers have also sung it's praises. But the owner of Foxhill Fiber, Alice Fields, doesn't have a website. She sells her yarns at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival. So, next October, run, do not walk, to her stall and bury your hands in some of this amazing fiber.

I highly recommend the natural colored wool.
The Cormo sheep:

Look at this beautiful boy.
The Cormo is a breed that is a cross of Corriedale and Merino sheep. The Corriedale is in itself a Merino cross. So, you can imagine how soft this yarn is. The Cormo originated in Tasmania, and was introduced into the U.S. in 1976.

Did you know that there are hundreds of sheep breeds? Hundreds and hundreds. I have included a link to Sheep 101, so you can look at the amazing diversity in this beautiful, useful animal.