FEMA Knits

My home town is currently besieged by biblical floods. For some reason, public officials, FEMA, emergency responders and the military have all been oddly quiet in one respect- just how a knitter should deal with this crisis. In the absence of more expert advice, I will take it upon myself to offer up some guidance to knitters who may find themselves in the midst of catastrophe.

As in most things, the best offense is a good defense. Before calamity strikes, prepare a disaster plan. Begin by evaluating your stash. How many bags would it fill? Purchase enough trash bags or vacuum pack bags to meet the need. It is not a bad idea to double that number to allow for future stash growth. Place them near the stash so you can pack your fibery friends quickly if the need arises.

Next, take inventory of your various tools. If you are simply a knitter, you may be fortunate enough to be able to put all of your needles and notions in a shoe box. If you’ve been sucked down the rabbit hole a bit further, you may have everything from pots for dying to a spinning wheel or three to consider. Imagine all of your tools and your yarn in one place. Will it fit in your car? If not, purchase a truck, again allowing for future growth of the stash. Although some neighbors might find a 26 foot box truck in the driveway unpleasant, assure them that it is a necessity. Your yarn must take priority. Plus, it acts as a great place to hide yarn from your partner if they’re finding the stash a little outlandish.

On a day off, practice packing your stash. Do it quickly, as if under pressure of impending doom. Get it on the truck. If the process takes more than 30-45 minutes, figure out how to make it faster. Are there neighbors that can be brought to the task? If not, you may want to hire someone to live in the house just in case they are needed.

Be sure you have various escape routes  mapped out in case a road is impassible. Natural disasters have a way of blocking off roads. For worst case scenarios, know where the high ground is. You may have to ride out the disaster as an island, praying to all that is wool for its protection.

I’ve been asked why I haven’t accounted for other personal belongings in the above considerations. For some reason, FEMA doesn’t seem to think yarn is particularly important. I am sure there are some conscientious legislators working on this problem as we speak, but until then, yarn must take priority. FEMA will happily purchase a bed or two, but they will never replace your stash.

Pets and family have their own survival instinct. Your yarn does not. Plus, if you’ve chosen well, your family will understand your (slightly neurotic) need to protect your fiber. They will take care of the rest.

If, for some reason, you find yourself unprepared for a disaster, do not be afraid to ask for help. As you frantically knock on neighbors’ doors begging assistance, avoid mentioning that it is to rescue your yarn. Some people just don’t understand. Instead, say something like “Please! My precious is trapped in the living room and can’t move!” Although you are obviously referring to your stash, they will probably assume that your precious is a beloved cat. By the time they realize it’s just a bunch of yarn, they’ll be caught up in the momentum of it and will probably help out anyway.

Disasters will happen. Be prepared. If you are not prepared now, today is the time. You and your yarn will be grateful someday when it pays off.

My Happy Place

The wind tossed waves of the unkind world crash upon the craggy rock of my troubled mind. There are a hundred tasks to accomplish, a thousand people to please and a million dreams I must set aside to make it all happen.

At least, that’s what most Mondays feel like.

I don’t know why my mind sometimes decides that it is so very persecuted. I’ve really got all I need: a loving family, beautiful friends, financial security and a place to live. To be quite honest, I think feeling pitiful is an activity that my brain enjoys. It may just be an old trail that has become so worn with overuse that thought travels its course naturally.

Either way, I’ve got a beautiful solution in wool.

When I’m sad, I just bury my face in a nice pile of fiber, be it yarn, roving or raw fleece. This is my happy place. My wool adores me. It is a friend who has nothing but love and appreciation for me. I am the kind master who can turn it in to all manner of things and the wool rewards my patient effort with objects of beauty.

I used to keep my stash neatly stacked in the closet. Today I’ve learned that my yarn is meant to be kept out on display. It is a friend that greets me each time I walk through the front door, enticing me to grab a skein or two and rub them against my face.

I’ve currently got an entire trash bag of Jacob wool lying in the middle of my floor. Caressing it gives me joy. It is the product of centuries of caring for funny little horned animals with happiness growing on their backs. It is a companion for hard times.

My skein of silk/alpaca lovingly spun from fiber gifted to me by my sister is another gentle friend. Simply looking at its sheen makes me smile. Touching it soothes even the worst aches.

Simple little pots of dye make me smile too. With time, they will be applied to roving that anxiously awaits its dressing in magic colors. Just the potential for creation lifts my soul from its darkest realms.

Monday is never a fun day, but my fiber makes it better.

Resistentialism

Every knitter has experienced it. The beginner swears that every yarn is possessed by its evil. Lace knitters consider it to be a state of being. Spinners come across its hateful spite when trying out new yarns or fibers. It is resistentialism, a word that has sadly fallen from our lexicon.

Fiber has a mind of its own. It can’t be blamed of course. After months of living outdoors on the back of a dirty sheep, being scoured with harsh chemicals, put through medieval torture devices designed to beat out any vegetable matter, pick it apart, lay it in neat little rows and twist it into tight strands any creature would have a bitter heart.

Of course, the knitter tries to remedy this troubled upbringing through proper stashing but even the best efforts sometimes fail. A yarn may simply be resistential.

The symptoms are obvious. It starts when the ball is first wound. The yarn may refuse to even start winding, slipping repeatedly from the notch supposedly designed to hold the yarn in place. Once it finally does start to wind, it might come from the skein onto the ball winder in fits and starts. This troubled yarn has done it’s utmost to tangle itself in the skein despite being carefully tied during dying. Particularly resistential yarns won’t even ball properly, making ugly and twisted balls that are guaranteed to be filled with tangles.

Finally being tamed into an organized cake, the yarns next expression of anger is to swallow up the center strand. This crucial bit of yarn then becomes all but impossible to find. The knitter is then forced to grab a great fistful of yarn from the middle, hoping against hope that the center strand might be contained somewhere in the tangled mess.

The yarn continues to express its troubles as it is worked. The outsides of the once pretty yarn cake start to collapse, making it look like a disheveled child who hasn’t combed their hair in weeks. Occasionally, a great pile of yarn vomit will emerge, forcing the knitter to spend precious time untangling the mass.

Once on the needles, the yarn finds even more ways to get back at the world that has treated it so poorly. It splits across needles, doing its best to look like two stitches instead of one. It tries to crawl its way off the needle tips, usually when the knitter is not looking. Angry yarn is a master of dropped stitches.

If the knitter is an expert, they may finally be able to coerce the troubled fiber into something resembling a finished object. Feeling quite please with themselves, the “master” then sets out to block the final project. Herein lies the yarn’s next diabolical plot.

A silk shawl might stretch to only two thirds of the expected diameter. A super wash sweater might grow to three times its original size. Socks that seemed to fit perfectly during knitting are suddenly two sizes too small.

Finally, if the yarn ever makes it through blocking, it begins its final protest. Ends that were woven in with the greatest care will start to work themselves to the finished surface. Seams will loosen and begin to look as if they are held together with more air than yarn. Colors that were once bright and cheerful will become sullen and dull.

Then there’s the pilling. If it can find no other way to fight back, the yarn will simply begin to self destruct, doing everything it can to work its way back into original fiber form. Try as one might, the yarn will continue to degrade into ugly little balls of fluff.

Beware resistential yarn. If it is angry, give it lots of love and patience. Stash it with care. Let it know it is loved and with some luck, it may turn into a finished object without damaging the sanity of those who made it.

 

A Knitter’s Guide To Travel

In my quest to be helpful to knitters in all things, it occurred to me that the new knitter might not quite understand the implications of travel on their budding passion. The experienced knitter, too, might have been making errors in their travel planning for a lifetime simply because they have not been better taught. Here I will attempt to give a few travel tips that might help knitters, both new and old.

First, begin with a basic question. “Why do I need to travel?” Before you leave the comfort of your local yarn stores, your various tools and your stash behind, ask yourself if leaving is really necessary. Be mindful of the fact that, should an emergency arise, you may be far away from yarn suppliers. If it is at all possible, stay in the comfort of your home. If there is no pressing need, don’t take the unnecessary risk that you will need to replace a special double point that only your local yarn store supplies. More importantly, don’t risk angering your stash. It can be a needy beast, requiring constant affection to avoid making the yarn feel neglected.

If you’ve evaluated all of the possible consequences and have made the decision that travel absolutely cannot be avoided, do so. If you follow the guidelines below, you can rest assured that your trip will be without major crisis.

Begin by evaluating your stash. Can it come with? I’ve left mine alone for just a few days and been rewarded with sullen glares from my yarn. The unspun fiber wouldn’t even look at me. I can only imagine if I left it for weeks on end. Remember that your stash requires frequent love and attention.

Once you’ve decided the stash can (or must) come with, find out how many suit cases your airline allows. Consider airlines that don’t charge for extra baggage and invest in a few of those giant plastic bags that you can suck the air out of. You’d be amazed how much yarn you can fit once the air has been removed.

If your stash won’t fit in your luggage, the next choice is driving. Long trips in a rental truck can be expensive but this should be considered insurance. What if you were on the road and lost a cable needle? If your entire stash is there and on hand, you will be sure to have whatever you need.

In extreme situations, the stash may be left home. If this is the case, you must hire a house sitter! Provide them with specific instructions on stash care including sitting in the room with the stash to keep it company, giving it occasional pets and bringing over a guest or two to admire it in all its glory. You don’t want an angry stash. Do whatever you must to keep it happy.

With the stash left home, you’ll have to make some difficult decisions. Begin by gathering all your needles. Fortunately, these are relatively compact and should fit in a suitcase. Next, be sure you have the requisite notions including stitch markers, scissors, measuring tape, crochet hooks and so on. Finally, you’ll need to gather up some yarn.

When selecting yarn, I would suggest approximating how much knitting time you will have. Estimate how many projects you will be able to complete in that span. Finally, quadruple that number. This should cover any unexpected situations such as being stranded in the airport, losing a set of needles or being driven so insane by your family that you sit in the hotel room all day knitting.

The types of projects should also be considered. If you have very young children, you may want to leave the cobweb lace behind. Blankets are challenging to travel with, but may be a nice lap cozy if driving in the winter. Socks are generally my preferred travel knitting, primarily because strangers tend to be so awed by all those double points.

Now that you’ve prepared your yarn for travel, you also need to take a close look at the destination. If traveling to a rural area, look up fiber farmers. Once while visiting family in central Utah, I came across a rancher who sold me two giant alpaca fleeces for $20. You may find the occasional unexpected yarn shop in these little towns too. In urban centers, find out where the yarn stores are and have a plan for how to get to them. Unsympathetic travel companions may require some persuasion on your part, but I’ve found that suggesting destinations the whole group might enjoy that happen to be near a yarn store is a great way to go. If all else fails, you can play sick and “stay in” while everyone else goes about town. Just be ready to explain that pile of yarn in the corner. I usually say “It’s not new. I brought it with me. It just needed to breathe for a while.”

Finally, getting your new yarn home should be considered. If you’ve gone with a rental truck, adding the yarn to the stash on the spot is possible. Otherwise, you may want to consider shipping it back home. Just be sure that your house sitter will be there. Notify her that the box should be opened immediately and the yarn should be lovingly stroked upon arrival. You wouldn’t want your yarn to be angry before it even got in the stash, now would you?

Theiving Alpaca

I don’t quite understand, but it’s happened two years in a row. I’m totally mystified. You’d think that a wool market would be totally safe. It’s like the comic con of knitters. Why on earth would criminals go miles out of their way to come to a little mountain town like Estes Park, Colorado? Nonetheless, it happened. I came to the 2013 Estes Park Wool Market and I was robbed.

A former boyscout, I came to the market prepared. I had cash on hand, just in case the car broke down and we needed assistance. It was only a couple hundred dollars- just enough to be safe. I didn’t think about wearing one of those under clothes wallets. It’s Estes Park, for Pete’s sake.

I’m not sure when it happened. I’m starting to think there is a great conspiracy. Perhaps this whole thing was set up to get me away from my money. Maybe it happened while I was distracted by all the gorgeous colors.

Yarn

It might have been while I was trying out one of the coolest toys ever- a WooLee Winder. In a bizarre coincidence, it even happened to be on the same model wheel I owned- a Schacht Matchless.

Me Wooly Winder

At first, I was enchanted to come across a young boy spinning yarn, but in retrospect, I think he may have been scouting out unwitting dupes to steal from.Boy Spinning

It could have been the sheep. They were masters at distracting me with their sweet fibery goodness. When I wasn’t looking, one of them might have reached a dirty cloven hoof into my pocket and extracted my hard earned cash.Cheviots

Rasta Sheep

If it wasn’t them, the Alpaca must have been the culprits. These sneaky little things unabashedly threw themselves at me, offering up hugs and kisses. Surely they had opportunity to get to my wallet.

Me Alpaca Kiss

I think the God Father and criminal mastermind behind all of this must have been the Jacob Ram. He walked with an air of superiority that only the kingpin of a major criminal organization could.

Jacob

I’m pretty sure the Paco-Vicunas were his little darlings. They were living high on the hog in a tent of their own with the angora bunnies to keep them company. I imagine the rabbits were gifts the Jacob bought with the thousands of dollars he raked in from events like these all over the country.

Paco Vicuna

Although I was disappointed to find that my money had gone missing, I will say the trip wasn’t all bad. Some poor person must have mistaken my car for theirs and left piles of fiber in it. Had I realized it was there before I left, I certainly would have turned around and tried to return it to them. If you ever come across them, please do let them know that I will be taking good care of the CVM fleece they left behind, along with the hanks of hand dyed fibers. I almost feel guilty making use of the hand painted silk batt I found, but someone has to use it. It may as well be me. The Tracy Eichheim dragon drop spindle was pretty cool too.

Next year, I’ll do a better job of taking care of my money. Perhaps I will get one of those silly under garment wallets but something tells me that Jacob has his ways. It’s probably best I just accept that the money will be missing and enjoy myself.

 

A special thanks to my dear friend Martha. I fear she may have lost some of her money while she was distracted taking all these gorgeous photographs!

Martha Alpaca

(Almost) Eternal Bliss

There are moments in a knitters life that are without match. Usually they are relatively fleeting- a finished project, a mother’s joy at her new shawl or the admiration of others as they see skilled fingers producing intricate lace. I’d hardly imagined that it was possible to string a series of these moments together to create something akin to Nirvana, but this past weekend proved me wrong.

My dear friend Matthew had pestered me for years to attend a Men’s Knitting Retreat. For one reason or another, I’d never been able to go. This year, Matthew took matters into his own hands and essentially signed me up whether I wanted to go or not. I acquiesced, requested a few days off and packed my bags.

With wheel in tow, a few knitting projects and a bunch of fiber, I set out. The retreat was about an hour from my home and the drive into the mountains was delightful despite my car’s manual transmission. As I traveled the windy road leading to the Sunshine Mountain Lodge, I couldn’t help but be caught up in the beauty of the mountains cradling the road with strength and unyielding compassion.

The lodge finally emerged after miles of winding road and greeted me with a friendly air. As I stretched my stiff legs, I knew I was in the right place. Through the front window, I saw men- lots of men. They were sitting in a circle and standing about. The air was filled with joyful knitting, spinning, laughing and a beautiful air of joy.

I was directed to a name tag and found a seat to join in the festivities. I met men who had traveled from as far as Turkey to join us in our fraternal bliss. As I met each of them, I felt myself leaving this sometimes unfortunate world. I was entering a new, more beautiful place where fiber was the center of the universe.

As anyone who has briefly visited Nirvana can attest, it can be difficult to recall just exactly what happened. I do remember fantastic conversations with incredible people. There were yarn shops. There was swag. There was show and tell.

There was a formidable young Jacob Ram who graced us with his blessings.

Jacob

There was a hike with a waterfall at its culmination.FallsAnd there were men- some of them quite attractive- both in body and soul. We spent time sharing wisdom, showing off and enjoying each others company but for the most part, we just made fun of each other. The women knitters out there may not understand, but throwing jabs and the occasional biting remark are a unique feature of male bonding. Believe me, this group was bonded before we left.

This weekend was four days of bliss. These men are friends in craft. They are friends in soul. They are friends in a shared experience for which I will be forever grateful.