Things handmade. About making things.
Is music a thing?

Monday, March 31, 2008

You're Welcome!!!

Hi Brenna,
Here's a very cute picture of Chloe wrapped in the now famous 'Brenna blanket'...............
Much love, Polly

n.b. and she already has her own website!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Slippery busy-ness

The world can be divided into two types of people.
Those who, like me, think slippers are great.
And those, like my friend Linda who says quite candidly,
"If you are thinking of giving me a gift of slippers...don't"

I don't think I'm that bad - but perhaps I have shown some signs of obsession which could be mistaken for possession. Maybe I talk about slippers more than I realize, a sort of Tourette's of the tootsies.

Could be. I do have a small collection of them.
I do like giving them to people.
And you know, some GUYS really like them and often drop hints that they would like a pair of comfy slippers like *insert aged female relative's name here* made them. Much less stress and trauma than a sweater! Of course, most guys are still not going to wear garish pink and blue slippers but you might be able to venture into a little pattern work or more than one colour that is not a shade of grey. Maybe.

Here are some things that I have learned about slippers. They are:
1) much maligned and often under-appreciated
2) a great source of knitting & creative satisfaction
3) as simple or as complex as you care to make them
4) a great opportunity to practice techniques like pattern work
5) an ideal way to use up left over bits of yarn and elements of your collection (aka stash)
that are languishing due to lack of inspiration.
6) small and portable (like socks - which means they also, alas, carry the curse of the second slipper syndrome)
7) you can often find an appreciative foot to wear them.

After I severely mistreated the Fleece Artist Country Mohair, I felt a little (but really only just a very little) guilty. The yarn is nice. I did buy it for the colours. But the slippers I ended up making with it were, well, kinda crappy. They are in the washing machine right now. Hmm I wonder how they felted this time. Anyway. I kept thinking that there had to be a better way.
I was at Romni Wools buying some Lopi-like yarns to do some repair work on more of Boyfriend's moth eaten sweaters. And when I got the yarns home and put them down, by chance, next to the Country Mohair, they clicked. A navy blue looked GREAT with the wild colours of the CM, and the weights were compatible. Okay, I thought, you two look like you go together, but I don't want to reinvent the wheel. And besides I should be finishing up a baby sweater for my nephew and starting on my twin nieces cardigans AND doing a lot of busy work and email and practicing and detail dribbling and copy writing and translation and basically anything BUT starting another, more or less unnecessary, knitting project. No stumbling around in the dark. I have to find the right pattern or template for this.

It is right under my nose of course. THEY are right under my nose.
Kenan Ozbel's Turkish Sock Patterns, Fancy Feet by Anna Zilboorg and my collection of slippers from Turkey and Bulgaria - if there is not enough information there to lead me in the right direction, I don't know where I'm going to find it.

Here's the first slipper, using the Turcoman's Earring motif from Anna Zilboorg's book. This is on a MUCH larger scale than anything else so rather than several repeats, there is just one.
This is before I ripped it back to the central medallion because I hadn't centered the ankle opening correctly and, after looking at the real slippers, I noticed there were better ways to do the edges. The bottom, pictured below, is more or less the same. I wanted to make the soles as thick and solid as I could. I have made slippers before and worn homemade slippers for years and they will get holes, so the sturdier the sole, the better.

(ooo bad bumper sticker: Slipper knitters are full of sole...)

I have yet to master the art of digital photos that are true to the natural colours - the yarns are more vibrant than appear here.

Since I am only looking to the books & models for Guidance and not a Pattern, I am currently working on getting the second slipper to more or less correspond with the first.
Slight consolation is taken from examining the "real" things and noticing that they are not always precisely, exactly the same. Part of the their charm I daresay.

Best part: the shoe fits the Boyfriend and while at first he said, "Those are pretty wild colours...I don't know B..." After about 5 seconds on his foot he wanted to know when its mate would be done.

Now, I want to see what happened to the original Ex$pn$ive $lipper$. Down to the washing machine.......

PS. the photo at the very top is one of my favorite slippers from the Aegean region of Turkey. The gauge is fine - at least 11 sts to the inch, while what I'm doing is more like 3.5 to the inch. A slipper gallery coming soon!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I tossed several balls of interestingly coloured yarns into my bag. Hmm, is this too pink? How about purple? Greens? Grabbed a hat fresh off the needles, and a colourful scarf. Into the tote they went. "I was going to ask Oli if he'd like a hat," I said as my boyfriend waited for me to be ready to actually leave the house, "Do you think he'd like one?"
"Yeah, I think he'd love one. That's a great idea. Here, this ball looks like Oli colours...".
"The green one? Yeah, the hat I'm wearing's made of that, so we can show this to him. What else?"
And so we pulled a few more balls off the pine shelf (and I cannot ooze enough joy at having my yarns on display like this...)
And went to visit with Oli at the hospital.

Oli, known in some circles as the world's tallest free standing fiddle player, is a damn fine musician and he has been coping with leukemia and its various treatments for some months now. In and out of the hospital. Lots of hope, then something happens and the hope is on hold and more tests and treatments and considering grim options. It is not a good time. At least not for most people. But Oli is somehow making the best of it. And friends and well wishers come from across Canada and beyond to send messages and visit with him when they can. Last night his dear friend Kate and his students Emilyn and Jaron turned the sterile hospital cubicle into a music room. There were fiddles and a keyboard set up, you might have mistaken all the tubes and monitors for cables and studio gear.
"We've been officially told to shut up," said Oli. The sounds were traveling beyond the room and, this being a cancer treatment ward, not all the patients were up to the sounds of merry making. Em and Kate had gone out for food so we chatted with Jaron who was just back from six months studying Indian violin in Chennai and Varanesi. I should add that Emilyn and Jaron are from B.C., and haven't missed an opportunity to come and see Oli in Toronto, their teacher and mentor of sorts. It's really lovely. Emilyn and another student of Oli's, Chelsea, revived one of Oli's projects, The Twisted String, and brought about 18 young fiddlers all the way from British Columbia to Toronto to play at a benefit for Oli at Hugh's Room last month. (Hugh's Room - you can bring your knitting but sometimes the lighting is really bad).
So we were chatting and Oliver was drifting in and out of the conversation and suddenly he said, "That's a great green hat."
"Perfect segue," laughed my Boyfriend.
"See, I just happen to have this bag of yarn here..."
Maybe you can already guess what happened.
I could easily have sold this hat 10 times over and given it away 20 times. It is a particular shade of green. Very fresh, very rich, very alive I think. And longish winters seem to bring out a strong longing for green.
I pulled it off my head and tossed it to Oli to try.
It's his hat now.

My head felt a little cold on the way home. But I felt warm.
And the green hat looked vibrant with a lovely orange shawl that Oli had on his bed.

Green & Orange.
Full of life.....

Friday, March 14, 2008


It is good to think of things that are good when much around you seems daunting.
When it seems like there there too many decisions, too many chores & too many deadlines looming, the ol' count your blessings adage is a good one to put into play.

I have a lot to do today, but I'm stealing a bit of time from myself to remind me what I can be positive about in life. This is beyond the stable of good friends and family who support me and endure me through my craziness. They require a whole world of ever swirling sparkling love and thanks that simply cannot be quantified.


In that moment I let all the good things flood in, Rob Brezny Pronoia -style.
The walks in the woods, the books to read, songs to sing & music to listen to, the yarn to knit, the places to do it, the friends and loved ones to do it with, swifts and ballwinders, coffee and good chocolate, lemon infused olive oil & balsamic vinegar, the process ... really, "mustn't grumble".

But I have to share this:
brenna you are going to need deknitting therapy soon.
knitting addict in german is strichtsucht
when in doubt wear black for the diva gig. i doubt any one expects you to be a diva. just a good singer.

Okay, now I am most grateful for the sartorial advice from my most fashionable sister.
And okay, I can see how some one might think I knit too much. But therapy??
Hmm, well, thanks for the advice sis - and glad you like the wrist warmers I made at your request to match the KidSilkHaze shawl I made to your specifications for your wedding outfit.
*insert image of maniacally grinning idiot here

And I am grateful for the prod to stop worrying about the surface and take care of the foundation. Must close the computer, hide the sticks and string and enter the joy of practice for a while.
And feel warmly grateful that I have the place and time to do it.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Expen$ive Le$$ons

I think the day I stop learning things, is the day I stop breathing but I wish I could learn a few things faster. As a friend quipped to me after an airport mishap that cost me close to 500$ (pesky 24-hour clock - who would think the flight was really at 3 am??!),

"Tuition for the School of Life is very high, and you've just learned an expensive lesson."

I take some consolation that lessons from knitting are not quite so costly - at least not individually. The collective cost of yarn as yet unused, perhaps purchased rashly, and the associated guilt can take their toll but generally errors in knitting can be resolved by ripping the thing out and starting over. How many things in life have that advantage?

So, to the slippers,
whoops that's
I made a second $lipper to match the first. More or less.

Le$$on 1: I actually love mohair and I know it sheds. I have a black mohair bolero that I made from a fine Italian yarn 15 years ago. It still sheds. Mohair sheds. Period. Leaves fall off of maple trees in the autumn, mohair sheds. How can I be upset with a yarn for shedding if that is in its job description? Working with the yarn I began to remember why I love mohair. It has a unique silkiness and a warmth. It is animal. Maybe that was the problem with this yarn. Maybe the colours weren't animal enough (unless you are in fact a tropical fish or the snout of a baboon). Maybe if it looked animal, I wouldn't mind the fuzzies. I meditated on that.

Le$$on Two: When fulling or felting, consider the colourfastness of the dyes.
Which I did not.
Once $lipper number 2 was finished, I decided that a little tightening up of the fabric was in order. They might shrink to be too small for me, but that was okay. In a shoes off household, a good supply of slippers in many sizes is only hospitable. I tossed them in a pot of boiling water - going for the old stove-top method. Away they burbled. I took a break from researching grants and tour proposals to give it a good poke and vigorous stir every 10 minutes or so. Hey, what's this? The water is sure getting murky. Hmm I guess a bit of the dye is being released, well, that's okay. They are $lipper$ after all. Fibres are coming up, but gee they don't seem to be getting any denser. Oh well, let 'em percolate a little longer. Hey now that's funny, the water is getting clear again. How long have they been bubbling? Nearly two hours. Okay time for the cold water plunge. Ugh. In spite of the loose knit, in spite of the fact that mohair will mat, very little shrinkage. Loads of fluff (especially on the garter stitch sole which turns out to be good for dusting the floor). And the colours? zapped, blanded, made mud. They are actually not bad. Maybe they are even looking a little animal (if you happen to be a fox with a penchant for muted Manic Panic), but the rich Fleece Artist hues have been browned over. I think the reds must of leached out of then back into the yarn with the heat. The blue is gone! I can't call them clown feet anymore. But I did clown around a lot while making them.

Le$on Three: This is actually a revelation. You can revere a fibre too much. Perhaps it is because when I first learned to knit, I had basically no money. I loved wool and angora and mohair but I put it on a bit of a pedestal. I questioned my worthiness to even touch things with silk & cashmere in them. I bought wool whenever I could and used every little bit of it. I have little balls of leftover wool from the first sweaters I made. That was 22 years ago. I still like to use my fibre like that. Even if it did grow on trees (like rayon, bamboo & banana silk), it has been through the mill (literally) and a great deal of energy (oil) has gone into its growth, manufacture and distribution. Dyeing it can add more chemicals to the environment, and lets meditate for a moment on sheep, goats and other ungluates. There is the whole issue of methane emitted by the sheep, not to mention what grazing does to the landscape. Goats have had a HUGE impact wherever they are raised in any numbers. Okay, so we can credit them for turning us on to coffee and I love them for that and their sheer goat-iness but really, they are hard on the planet. And then there are things like water contaminated by manure, antibiotics & pesticides & chemicals used to clean and treat the fleece etc etc. Yup, wool and fibre are to be respected and used judiciously. Unless you are raising your own animals for fleece and spinning it, or buying it from your neighbours, you are partaking of an industrial product at some level or another. And if you've seen the amount of skilled labour and hours it takes to go from "sheep to shawl", you know that it is not a substance to be squandered.

But you still have to have fun and be creative and create lovely things.
Yet I can't bring myself to make silk gift bags. Or cashmere cat beds.
& what do you do when good yarns go bad? Its a dilemma - and one must try to strike a balance.

I realized that my $lipper$ were cathartic. I actually LAUGHED when I cast on to make mohair slippers, and giggled when I discovered I had no plan or gauge swatch. I realized that I have been hoarding and waiting on quite a bit of yarn because I am a little afraid of it. I fell in love with it enough to buy it, and since I'm usually between jobs that means I probably overextended myself to get it. I don't want to make something ugly and ill fitting with it. It might happen. I have certainly committed more than my fair share of knitting disasters. BUT, I can probably rip it out, start again & learn something in the process. And I am so lucky that I have a really nice collection of yarn to play with and explore. (And this is just part of it!)Co$t of this le$$on? 2/3 of a skein, that's 20 dollars, and a couple of hours of knitting.
What to do with the remaining yarn? Make more slippers using a real template? Pass it on to someone else?

As yet undecided. But I have miles to knit before I sleep.....