If We Stay Here…

The last night was bittersweet.  After dinner we had a combination Q & A session and a little show and tell.  We learned about thigh spinning as an alternative method of depilation, we saw some truly breathtaking projects, and we made grand plans to keep in touch.  We laughed and hugged and one or two people may have cried just a bit, for we knew it was almost time to go home.  Stephanie put it best when she explained “if we stay here…we’ll die.  You can’t do this forever.” And she’s right of course (she usually is).  We couldn’t do it forever, but it was marvelous while it lasted.

The Three Rs, Part Three

So day one was rowdy, and day two was reverent.  Day three can perhaps best be called raucous.  It was knitting with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, it was the final day, and we were all more than a bit slap happy.

Things started out well enough.  There was learning, there was sharing, there was swatching.  We got to try out all the yarns we had dyed on the first day and several more as well.  The wisdom of my decision to buy piles and piles of Silkie Sock was confirmed.  My resistance to sweater knitting was substantially undermined.  (Ya see that silvery gray stuff in the bottom right corner?  Yeah, that may have been the thing that pushed me over to the sweater knitting camp.  At least I’ll know what to blame.)

But soon, the conversation turned to the best way to wind balls (balls of yarn people, balls of yarn).  It became something of a theme, and the rest of the day is lost in a blur of giggles and smutty jokes.  I’ll claim amnesia about the details, but the over all effect was lovely.  It was great to see how well the group had clicked over the last three days, and we all walked away knowing much more than when we walked in.

The Three Rs, Part Two

So if day one was rowdy, day two would have to be described as reverent.  The second day was spent spinning with Judith MacKenzie.  Now you all know that spinning was the thing I was most concerned about.

Just days before the class was announced, I had declared that I was done with spinning.  It’s only due to an entirely uncharacteristic delay in getting rid of stuff that I hadn’t chucked all my spinning fiber the week before the class went public.  I had put it all in a pile to go away, but just never got around to finding a new home for it.  When we introduced ourselves at the start of the retreat, I explained that I was there in part because I “got distracted while trying to clean out my closet.”

So I registered.  And I practiced.  Then I bought better spindles.  And I practiced.  And I bought more fiber.  And I practiced.  Eventually I was turning out something that was more or less yarn-like.  Not good, not skillful, but recognizably yarn-ish in nature.  Then I got to class and realized just how bad I still am at this.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t a troubling realization.  It was more like ‘wow look how many other ways there are to do this’ than ‘I am a terrible person and should hang my head in shame at having thought I could do it.’  I have a bad habit.  If I’m not good at a new task five minutes after starting it, I tend to decide it is a lousy thing to know and loose all interest in it.  I don’t feel that way about spinning, at least not after this class, and I credit that to Judith.  She is a marvelous instructor and incredibly well versed in her subject.  She put everyone at ease.  She answered questions from newbies and experienced spinners alike and never once made me feel foolish or out of place.  It was phenomenal.  Everyone was more or less in awe of her knowledge and skill.

As for the content of the class?  Well, we spun.  We spun silk by itself in several different preparations, and we spun silk mixed with wool, cashmere, angora, alpaca, and a few things I can’t even remember.  Much of it was beyond my current skill level, but it was all great fun. The only downside was that I seem to have decided I need to acquire an electric spinning wheel.  This one in particular.  Beth was kind enough to loan me one for the class, and now I’m smitten.

Later that Night

After a full day of dyeing, you might think we’d have had enough fun.  Nope.  There was more to come that night.

We started by dyeing (or perhaps painting is a more accurate word) silk scarves with Dye-Na-Flow paints.  The process was unreasonably entertaining.  It felt sort of like craft day at summer camp.  We each made two and it was amazing how different they all were.  You can see both of mine in the picture on the left.  The first is the purple one in the middle on the bottom row, the second is the orange one running perpendicular to the others towards the top of the picture.  I may have to become one of those people who knows what to do with scarves.  The skill has so far alluded me, but it seems there might be some benefit to acquiring it.

Our next activity was a bit more of a spectator sport.  When we were done with our scarves we wandered over to watch Judith MacKenzie dip yarn into a giant vat of indigo dye.  She explained the history and chemistry of indigo while her hands  turned ever bluer.  When the yarn first goes in and comes out of the dye it is a lovely emerald green.  If you peer hard you can just see it in the photo below.  You have to shake and fluff and toss (and otherwise oxygenate) it before it turns blue.  It looks rather like a magic trick.  I couldn’t bear to leave mine in the grass to dry overnight so I took it back to my room to drip dry in my shower (with a trash bag underneath of course to keep me from dyeing the tile).  It looks exactly like a pair of five year old blue jeans.

The Three Rs, Part One

The word that comes to mind for day one has to be rowdy. I mean it in the nicest possible way, but there’s just no way around it.

The students at the retreat were divided up into 3 groups and each group rotated through the three instructors in a different order.  All of the groups seemed to develop their own personalities.  Mine was obviously the coolest.

Our first day’s activity was dyeing with Tina Newton, the mastermind behind Blue Moon Fiber Arts.  We started with a discussion of color, silk, and dye.  Within a few minutes, we were wielding squirt bottles full of dye with reckless abandon.  We played with three very different sorts of yarn and two different preparations of unspun silk.  That’s Silkie Socks over there on the left and some lovely silk top (I think, I neglected to take notes so I could be wrong) down there on the right. We also did a silk laceweight, a lovely silk mohair blend, and a whole stack of silk hankies.

We used miles of plastic wrap (and somehow managed refrain from mummifying anyone in it) and learned the ancient and sacred dyer’s call and response of “vinegar, vinegar, vinegar” “oh shit!” By the end of the day my hands were blue (and while my toes remained color-free, I did see a few folks sporting some brightly-colored splotches on their feet) and my face hurt from laughing.  Any lingering shyness about meeting new people had vanished, and we all smelled faintly of vinegar. It was an excellent start to the weekend, and we walked away with lots of goodies.

Quite Alright, Thank You

One of the most enjoyable things about the retreat was that everyone staying at the Inn was there for the same thing.  It was unexpectedly liberating.  You knew that no one would think it odd that you were carrying around a spinning wheel or sitting on the porch knitting or carefully photographing a ball of brightly colored fluff.  If you noticed someone peering intently at your work you could be sure that they would ask about the yarn or the technique or the colorway, not ask ‘don’t you know you can buy socks at the store?’  Even the staff had more or less gotten used to us and took our odd behavior in stride.

But the Inn also has a marina, and the people staying on the boats had not quite reached the same level of equanimity.  They seemed more than a bit perplexed.  We outnumbered them though, and we tended to move in packs, so they didn’t really say much about it.  At least not until Saturday.

Saturday morning after breakfast I decided to sneak off for a few minutes to take pictures of Peregrinate.  I ate breakfast on the porch.  Just off the porch there was a little path with a set of stairs leading down to a bit of a beach.  On the beach was a giant log covered in grass and moss and other mystery plants I can’t name.  The beach (and all but the top few inches of the log) is submerged at high tide, but in the morning there is plenty of space to wander around.  I decided the log would be a great place to take pictures.

At first, I tried to do it standing up.  Alas, I couldn’t quite get my feet where I wanted them and get the camera where I wanted it and maintain my balance (my dignity had already been abandoned) all at the same time.  So I decided to get a chair off the porch.

Now those stairs I mentioned only come down to within about 3 feet of the beach.  If they went any lower, the bottom ones would be under water at high tide.  It was easy enough to hop up and down, but lugging a large sturdy (read heavy) chair down the stairs was a bit trickier.  I managed though, and dragged it over to the log.  I sat down, kicked my feet up as high as I could, scrunched down in the chair to get the shot lined up, and started clicking away.  I’m sure it looked odd, but it should have been pretty obvious what I was doing.

About this time the folks staying on the boat started coming out to walk their dogs.  Their path took them right by me.  Several stopped to stare, but I ignored them.  Some felt the need to to chat.  They all started the same way.

“Are you ok?”

Yes.

“Do you need help?”

No.

“What are you doing?”

Taking pictures of my socks.

Now of course what they were really wanted to ask was ‘why are you taking pictures of your socks?’ But none of them quite got up the nerve.  I have a firm policy of answering the question that was asked and not over explaining.  I pretend it preserves the mystery.  I had this exchange or a slight variation of it several times before I was done.

As I was packing up, one of the staff members came by and asked if I gotten enough pictures of my socks and if I’d like help getting the chair back on the porch.  These were much more reasonable questions and demonstrate a far better understanding proper knitting behavior.  I was impressed.

Drippy

I know how to pack a suitcase.  I really do.  I have lots of experience with it.  I’ve packed delicate easter eggs, I’ve packed antique distaffs, I’ve packed 12 bottles of booze in 2 tiny suitcases.  I have never had anything break.  Not one thing.  Not jam jars, not plates, not tiny bits of carved wood.  Not even when these breakable things were accompanied by big rocks (one of the other things I tend to cart home, they make great bookends).  Nothing.

Until yesterday.  Yesterday the baggage handler gods decided to smite me.  While I was in Washington I picked up a bottle or two of some locally produced adult beverages, a big jar of honey, and a tiny bit of yarn.  These were all planned purchases, meaning my I left plenty of room in my suitcase for them.

My traditional precautions didn’t seem to matter.  When my suitcase came trundling off the conveyor belt it was open, dripping, and sticky.  The jar of honey had broken, my conditioner had come open, and a bottle of nail polish was smashed.  Have you ever tried to smash a bottle of nail polish?  It’s pretty hard to do.  You have to really work at it.  The baggage handlers seem to have been determined to give me all of my luggage mishap karma at once. I’m fairly sure they tied my suitcase on a long string and let it dangle behind the plane.

Luckily, all of the yarn had gone in my carry on.  The theory was that if they lost my clothes, I could stay home in my pajamas and knit.  Whereas if they lost my yarn, I’d have to put on my clothes and go out in the world and be a grownup.  They didn’t lose anything, but I am getting to experiment with the most efficient ways to wash honey and conditioner out of an entire suitcase full of dirty clothes.  I think the only thing to say is that it’s better than trying to wash honey and conditioner out of a suitcase full of yarn.

While I deal with that, you can look at the picture I meant to post last time.  I assure you it’s more soothing than looking at the laundry pile.

Nothing to See Here

I took advantage of getting in a day early to go exploring yesterday.  I more or less managed to conduct myself like a grown up.  I got where I was going without getting remarkably lost, I kept myself fed and hydrated, I did not come to the attention of the local constabulary, and I saw pretty things.

Alas, there was one small problem.

As I was wandering around the beach, I decided it would be an excellent spot to take some pretty pictures of the most recent finished socks.  Water, rocks, sand, the occasional hunk of driftwood, what more could I want.  Shortly after that I realized that said socks were resting comfortably in my hotel room an hour’s drive away.  Oops.

No need to worry though, there’s no shortage of pretty scenery right here at the hotel.  And I’d show you…but my computer doesn’t want to let me upload pictures.

A Wee Excursion

I’m packing (the suitcase sort of packing, not the illicit weaponry sort).  It’s not just regular trip packing.  I’m actually pretty darn good at that.  It’s knitting trip packing.  Somehow this is ever so much more complicated.  Especially in this case, as there is dyeing and spinning paraphanallia in addition to the standard knitting supplies.  You see, I leave on Thursday for the Yarn Harlot’s Silk Retreat.

It is a bit indulgent, but I’m heading out a day early.  I feel a tiny twinge of guilt, but not much.  One of my few regrets from Sock Summit was not having allowed myself much time to explore Portland and Oregon.  I managed to steal a day away from classes in the middle, but it was not enough.  I’m making up for that lapse at next year’s Sock Summit.  The Oregon Brewers Festival is ever so conveniently scheduled to overlap with Sock Summit 2011.  This, combined with the general allure of Portland, was enough to convince The Boy that we should go together next time.  Still, I totally learned my lesson and scheduled some extra down time on this trip.

Now in theory I’ll have internet access while I’m gone, and I should even be able to update the website.  Alas, theories are occasionally disproved.  Even if I do have access, I may be too busy indulging in yarny goodness to spend much time typing.  Worst case scenario, I’ll report back when I return.