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June 29, 2006

On the needles

Monday afternoon, on my way to my UCLA class (Intro to linguistics), I started a sock in Regia Antique Patch. My Fair Isle sweater seems destined to increase my pile of UFOs unless I get back to it soon. Problem is, in this heat I can't bear to keep the sweater on my lap. A sock is ok, though, and doesn't require me to bring along charts or instructions.

June 28, 2006

Postcard from Japan

  This morning I mailed a card to my SP in the UK and this afternoon I received a postcard from my SP in Japan. Somehow, all my packages and postcards from Japan arrive when I need some cheering up. Today has been a bad day in more ways than one so this was perfect timing. :)

The card is a summer greeting and I learned that it's very popular to send seasonal greetings in Japan.


June 27, 2006

Deviled Eggs

: Uova alla diavola

They are tasty, they are easy, and everybody likes them. Can't beat that. Here is a basic recipe.

What you need
— Hard boiled eggs (see How to boil eggs and How to peel eggs)
— Mayonnaise
— Mustard
— Garnish of choice (chives, Italian parsley, paprika, capers…)
— Salt
— Ground pepper (optional)


  1. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise.

  2. Pop out the yolks.

  3. Mash the yolks with a fork in a bowl.
  4. Add the mayo, mustard, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. I often eyeball quantities. In this case, I use a combined amount of mayo and mustard roughly equal to the amount of yolks. Proportion between mayo and mustard: approx. 3 to 1, but you'll have to make your experiments. In doubt, go easy on the salt and mustard.
  5. With the help of a teaspoon, fill the eggs with the mixture. I like my eggs rustic-style, but you could use one of those dispenser thingies (don't give me a hard time… I am sleep deprived and English isn't even my first language). You know what I mean.
  6. Garnish with something you like. I often use Italian parsely, but since I successfully killed all my kitchen herbs, this time I used capers instead. My American friends favor paprika.
  7. Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.

When I make a large quantity of deviled eggs, I split the yolks in two or three bowls and use a different kind of mustard for each bowl. My favorites are Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and some stone ground varieties.

Related tip
Whenever you prepare a dish that needs to be refrigerated before serving, make room in the fridge ahead of time. This is particularly useful when you have a cat that gargoyles from the top of your kitchen cabinet waiting for you to be inside the fridge to make room for the eggs, so he can jump on the counter for a sampling session.

June 25, 2006

Quasi felt day

Today I had a few friends over for a day of felting. Well, that was the plan. As it turned out, only three of us did any felting, after which me and JoShell decided that felting ain't our thing after all.

JoShell struggled with some uncooperative fiber while I tried to make a coaster out of the green fiber I received from my secret pal. In my case, the fiber was perfect; my technique less so. This was my second time felting and maybe I am not doing it right, but it seems too much work and not enough payoff. My would-be coaster came out uneven (you can see the layers of fiber if you hold it to the light) and all puckered. I'll try ironing it out and see if that helps, but it's not looking good.

At least Andrea did a good job. She felted around a rock using fiber in two contrasting colors, then cut it so she will extract the rock and add a zipper to make a little purse. I think it'll be lovely. You can see a hint of the inside color in the last photo.

June 24, 2006


Summer is here… I wish I wasn't. Too darn hot, and it's not just me. Pipie is stretching by the air vent in the dining room.

Meanwhile, my lovely library assistant does a shift on the knitting shelf to make sure no two books are aligned. He doesn't care too much for that neat look. Also, corners should be fashionably chewed and covers slightly messed with. It's the wabi-sabi look, baby. No, not shabby-chic, thank you. We don't go for that froufrou stuff.

All this work wears him out. Time for an office nap.

Followed by a bedroom nap.

If I'm nice, maybe he'll work on the lower shelf tomorrow.

June 23, 2006

More needles

My color swatch is growing. The knitting is not as even as it could be, because I am using the wrong size needle. I don't have circular needles US #3 (3.25mm) in 16" length so I am using a size smaller. BUT… last night I found out from Stranded on Fair Isle that Knitpicks has an incredible sale on Addi Turbo needles and ordered a few. They are all 50% off. Add to that no shipping charges for orders over $40 and no sales tax; you do the math.

I couldn't take a single decent picture of the swatch, but here it is anyway.

June 22, 2006

Green balls

I spun a small bag of fiber from Capistrano Fiber Arts Studio, this time in a green colorway. The bag had fiber from two rovings and one was darker than the other so I kept them separate to accentuate the difference and I ended up with three balls in a lighter color and three darker.

The difference is subtle, but I hope noticeable enough for a color test. I am knitting a swatch to see how slightly different colors interact in a simple pattern. I barely started the swatch so it's not very visible yet; I should have more in a day or two.

Ben is leaving tomorrow for a bachelor party in Vegas and I am planning a fiber-filled weekend of spinning, knitting and felting. All in small batches, though, to avoid stressing my right arm. And if the stupid arm gives me grief, I'll just drag a bunch of books to the sofa and park myself there for the next three days.

June 20, 2006

Knitting Nature

   This book explores systematically several kinds of patterns found in nature and, for each one, provides a good diversity of projects. I only got the book last night and don't know when I'll be able to actually try something from it, but it really seems a great combination of inspiration and patterns: my favorite kind of book.

Knitting Nature
by Norah Gaughan
ISBN 1584794844

    Chapter 1: Hexagons
  • Introduction
  • Asymmetrical Cardigan
  • Basalt Tank
  • Hex Coat
  • Honeycomb Henley
  • Snapping Turtle Skirt
  • Hex Afghan

    Chapter 2: Pentagons
  • Introduction
  • Sand Dollar Pullover
  • Swirled Pentagon Pullover
  • Bubble Pullover
  • Starfish Shawl
  • Pentagon Aran Pullover & Cardigan
  • Mosaic Shrug

    Chapter 3: Spirals
  • Introduction
  • Nautilus Poncho
  • Spiral Scarf
  • Cowl Pullover
  • Cable Spral Pullover
  • Shell Tank
  • Ram's Horn Jacket

    Chapter 4: Phyllotaxis
  • Introduction
  • Diamond Tunic
  • Phyllo Yoked Pullover
  • Roundabout Leaf Tank
  • Phyllotaxis Scarf
  • Sunflower Tam

    Chapter 5: Fractals
  • Introduction
  • Branching Aran Guernsey
  • Ogee Tunic
  • Frost Jacket
  • Serpentine Coat
  • Coastlike Camisole and Skirt
  • Triangle Scarf

    Chapter 6: Waves
  • Vortex Street Pullover
  • Reflection Aran Pullover
  • Turbulence U-Neck Pullover
  • Target Wave Mittens
  • Moiré Skirt
  • Droplet Hat

June 19, 2006

Less computer time

Tendinitis to my right arm and impingement syndrome to my right shoulder are rearing their ugly head again. It's hard to work at the computer so I am going to limit that as much as possible. Considering that I make my living at the computer, that's not going to be easy. Bummer.

June 17, 2006


Lately, I haven't worked on my Fair Isle sweater because I reached a point where I need to figure things out and I dont' trust myself with doing something new when I am too tired. Beside, I've done enough frogging when I started that sweater to want to risk having to do more of the same. Instead, I decided to do some color swatching to try out some Jamiesons shetland. This didn't require too much brain power. :)

Thought I'd try a bit of color cabling, but it was way too slow.

Fiber experiments

A couple of months ago, I went down to San Juan Capistrano with my friend JoShell to visit Lori Lawson's Capistrano Fiber Arts Studio. Lori — a lawyer in a previous life — dyes a variety of fibers in beautiful colorways. I came away with a few bags of different blends and colors that I am finally starting to play with.

Alpaca/Merino/Tussah Silk blend (50/30/20) in a colorway called "Fable Valley".

The skein above was spun on a midi Bosworth spindle, but now I am spinning a finer version on a Moosie, another Bossie so named because the whorl is made out of moose antler instead of wood.

Superfine Alpaca/Blue Face Leicester (50/50) in a random colorway.

Superfine Alpaca/Blue Face Leicester (50/50) in a random colorway.

I have two other colors to try, but no idea of what to make yet since I bought only sampling amounts in each color.

Capistrano Fiber Arts Studio does not have a website, but I think that Stick & Stone Fiber Arts will be carrying their products.

June 16, 2006

Lazy Friday

Of course I am working. It's not like I need the whole keyboard.

And I remember almost a third of the notes under Kelvin's belly.

Besides, he does shift a little every half hour or so. Look, I just got the option key back, and E and R! Q and W still out of reach, but I don't use Q that often. No, wait! I got those back, too, and I certainly can do without the Tab key for a while.

And no interference from Pipie… yet.

Really, it's a good Friday.


  Ragù is one of the most popular pasta condiments throughout Italy. Recipes abound and you'd be surprised at the extent of variations. Even within a small area like Romagna — which is only a portion of the region Emilia-Romagna — the variations are significant. For instance, I use beef, but if I could find the right kind of pork sausage, I would use a mixture of 2/3 beef and 1/3 sausage. Sometimes I use 50/50 lean beef and lean pork. My grandmother used beef and chicken livers and others use a combinations of beef, veal and pork. Another item of contention is wine. I use red; some people use white and others use milk instead. How different can you get?

If you've never made ragù, this is a basic recipe that will get you started. Try it and then modify according to your taste.

About the big quantity… it's due to a convergence of laziness and ease to freeze. Ragù freezes well, so I make about two pounds in one go (about 1 kg) and then freeze what I don't use right away in small packages.

What you need
— two medium onions, chopped fine
— 3-4 ribs of celery, chopped fine
— 2-3 carrots, chopped fine
— two pounds of lean ground beef (or meat of your choice)
— a generous glass of dry red wine
— a large can of whole or crushed tomatoes (San Marzano)
— half a cup of tomato paste (optional)
— olive oil
— rock sea salt
— food processor to cut the onion, carrot and celery quickly
— kettle or pot to keep hot water handy
— timer to remind you to check the pot every 20' or so


  1. Chop the onions, carrots and celery in big chunks, then pass through the food processor.
  2. Put some olive oil in the pan and when it's hot, throw in the onion, carrot and celery and let cook for a few minutes until the mixture starts to become translucent.
  3. To better cook the onion/carrot/celery mix, I divide it between the ragù pot and a pan. When the veggies are ready, I transfer those in the pan to the big pot.

  4. Raise the flame and add the ground beef stirring often with a wooden spoon until all the redness has gone.
  5. Add the red wine and mix until it has been absorbed.
  6. Add the peeled tomatos and tomato paste, lower the flame and let cook slowly for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  7. From time to time check to see if you need to add water. If so, add hot water (keep kettle handy). You can also add broth but be aware of the overall saltiness. I prefer to go easy on the salt and then adjust it towards the end.
  8. When the ragù is done, let it cool off for a few hours, then prepare packages to freeze.

  9. I make my packages very flat to maximize contact surface for faster defrosting.

    Et voilà, a month of pasta.

Ragù is a "sugo di carne" (meat sauce) and it's all about the meat, not the tomatoes.

Beef: I use the leanest I can find. When I want a particularly strong flavor, I get New Zealand beef; it's slightly gamier than US beef.

Tomatoes: I buy San Marzano tomatoes. They are grown on the volcanic soil of the Vesuvio near Napoli (Naples) and tastier than other kinds. Unless you grow your own tomatoes, of course… I tried that and lost to the greenhorn worms.

For directions on how to cook pasta, see How to cook pasta the Italian way.

June 15, 2006

Email wierdness

My email program just spit out 44 old emails (June 9 to June 15) that I had no idea I'd been missing. I apologize to all of you who emailed me and got no reply from me. I didn't know. The wierd thing is that while I was missing those messages, I received hundreds of other emails so I had no way of knowing that there was a problem. Hopefully I haven't missed any message. A minor bummer is that I had ordered a book from Amazon — Knitting Nature — and was expecting it today, but three of the old emails were from Amazon because there was a problem with my order and the book hasn't even shipped yet.


One of the reasons we fell in love with our neighborhood is the wildlife: deer, rabbits, raccoons, possums, owls, coyotes and the occasional mountain lion. Last night we had a visit from a friendly raccoon. A good time was had by all, especially Piper, who got to play hide and seek.

Considering the jump before going buh-bye.

June 14, 2006

Socks done

Work got in the way of knitting lately and I haven't worked on my Fair Isle sweater in more than two weeks. I did manage to finish my happy socks, though. About time, too, considering that I had started them in London and that was back in April.

I undid the toe of the first sock — which had been finished for weeks — because the yellow bit at the very end was bothering me. I like the darker tip of the toe much better.

A perfect use for single socks

It's called second sock syndrome or single sock syndrome. It afflicts most knitters who knit one sock at a time. We get through the first sock quickly, then find all sorts of reasons for not finishing the second sock. I used to feel bad about having so many single socks lying around and somehow that made things worse. Then I found the solution: I turn my single socks into Christmas socks. Like this.

Lonely sock

Christmas sock.

This year I am going to have a bunch of these socks ready for my Christmas party, one for each friend, and maybe I'll embroider their names on them — gotta learn to embroider before Christmas of course — and put little gifts inside.

Interestingly, now that I have a use for my single socks, I find it easier to finish them in pairs.

June 13, 2006

Chinese needles

  My Chinese doctor came back from a trip home and brought me a pair of knitting needles. They are metal, but unlike any other metal knitting needles I've ever seen: they are hollow. This makes them very light and also less cold to the touch than regular metal needles. They are very long — 17.5" (44.5cm) — and still amazingly light. Apparently they are the latest rage for knitters in China. I've got to get around more.

June 12, 2006

Faux Italian

  This is for my American friends who want to try real Italian cuisine without flying to Italy. There are plenty of so-called Italian restaurants in the U.S. Unfortunately, most of them are not what they claim to be. So, how do you find an authentic Italian restaurant?

First, a disclaimer. There really is no such thing as Italian cuisine. There is regional — and even more localized — cuisine: cucina romagnola, veneta, toscana, siciliana… you get the picture. Consequently, there is no such thing as an Italian restaurant. If you go to Italy, wherever you are, you eat regional dishes. In Toscana you'll eat zuppa di farro, in Romagna passatelli and in Veneto risi e bisi. You won't find dishes with couscous and sundried tomatoes in Val d'Aosta or a lot of lard and butter in Sicilia. An authentic restaurant outside Italy should give at least a rough indication of the provenance of their dishes; as a bare minimum a distinction between northern and southern dishes.

So, how can you have a true Italian experience here in the States? It's probably easier to explain how to recognize faux Italian.
Signs that you may not be sitting at an Italian restaurant:

  • It's part of a large chain (i.e. The Olive Garden).
  • All the dishes have pasta on the side. In Italy, pasta is considered a first course (primo) and served before the main course (secondo).
  • All the dishes come as combos and you can't mix and match. In Italy, side dishes (contorni) are listed as separate menu items so you can have asparagus with your roast chicken or roast potatoes with you sole, if you so wish. Set menus do exist, but tend to be optional features in addition to the regular mix-and-match menu.
  • Several things on the menu are mispelled (I'll have to make a separate entry for this)
  • The kitchen staff is shouting in Spanish
  • Your server says "broushedda" instead of bruschetta
  • No Italian region is mentioned in the restaurant name or menu

Now that you have an idea of how to spot the fakes, how do you go about finding the real thing? Find some first generation Italians in your area, better if they haven't been here long and are still in culture shock; they'll know where the good restaurants are. If you live in a big city, there will be organizations for Italian expats and there's always the Web. Universities are also a good place to find people from other countries and they often have clubs. In Pasadena, for instance, there is a strong Italian group at Caltech. The Italian Club at Caltech is very active and friendly; they have weekly events such as movie night and lunch on campus. You don't need to be Italian or a PhD student to participate.

For a glimpse at what it means to be Italian when it comes to food, check out the movie Big Night. It's a great movie that revolves around the preparation of a big Italian dinner, but not just that. I wish they'd use real Italian actors to portray Italians in movies, but I like Tony Shalhoub anyway and they did cast Stanley Tucci and Isabella Rossellini. Well, looks like I digressed a bit… Whatever. Rent the movie.

June 11, 2006

Simple Zakka

  I received this book yesterday, among many other things, from my secret pal in Japan.

Simple zakka and bag of felt wool
Publisher Ondori
ISBN 4-277-43072-4

I have to make these little glass holders. I have two glasses just like these, maybe slightly taller, that I bought a long time ago for Irish coffee. Now I use them for ice cream and the little dress would be nice.

I have to make these coasters, too.

And these little bottle covers. But how do you put them on and take them off, I wonder?

And I certainly have to make these espresso cup holders and saucers, trompe l'oeil little spoons included.

Who would have thought of a felted paperweight? It reminds me of the felted soap my friend Andrea made for Christmas.

This bag will have to wait until Bush is no longer in office.

I am perplexed about the letters; I'll have to check the dictionary to see the Japanese names for these nuts.

Other projects in the book: more bags, baby shoes, pot holders, photo case, tea mat, pouch, circular boxes, bookmark, tray, pen case, flower vase cover, room shoes.

Aside from the title and names of the projects, the book is entirely in Japanese, but the step-by-step instructions have clear photographs and illustrations and if you've felted before, you shouldn't have any problem.

June 10, 2006

Another package from Japan!

  My Secret Pal is the best. My Saturday got lost in a series of small chores and by late afternoon I was bummed out that I hadn't had a real day off and I didn't know why. Couple of emails to clients, an invoice here, another little thing there, laundry, errands and it was 5:30pm. Then I convinced Ben to take a break from programming and we went for a short walk. The neighborhood is lovely in the evenings, not so hot, and all the plants in bloom. Among the bouganvilles on hormones we saw a beautiful doe grazing a neighbor's garden. By the time we got back home, the day was finally starting to look up. Then I checked the mailbox and there it was: a big yellow padded envelope from my SP in Japan.

And inside all these cool things! My SP had told me to watch the mailbox, but this was another stressful week and I had forgotten. I certainly didn't expect so much. *Four* books and booklets, funny stickers, an adorable card and felting wool.

I love this card; something about the pose and expression of the amigurumi makes it really sweet.

The highlight of the package is the book Simple zakka and bag of felt book. I had put it on my list at Amazon Japan after seeing just two photos and now I am so glad I did. It's a lovely book with some adorable felted projects. I am scanning several pages and I'll make an entry just for this book tomorrow.

These booklets are also about handmade felt.

The kittens and the sleeping puppies are too cute.

And not only the books, but also two bags of 100% merino wool so I can get started with some felting right away. Is that sweet or what?

Who's got the best secret pal?

Grazie SP!

June 9, 2006

Shadow knitting

 Shadow knitting is a form of textural knitting that employs a combination of stockinette and garter stitch in two or more colors. The idea is clever and simple at the same time. When viewed flat with diffused lighting, you only see the colors, but when the knit surface or you or the light move, then you see the texture and the protruding ridges of garter stitch project shadows on the "indented" rows below them, adding to the multidimentional effect. The overall impression is one of shimmering now-you-see-it-now-you-don't that can be subtle to the point of almost invisibility.

The idea of understated beauty has long been a hallmark of Japanese aesthetics so it's not surprising that the first documentation of this technique is found in Japan. At least according to Danish designer Vivian Høxbro who, in the preface to her book, openly credits a Japanese book as the first publisher of patterns that used this knitting technique.

Shadow Knitting
by Vivian Høxbro
ISBN 1931499411

The book that started it all.

Shadow Knitting clearly presents examples and diagrams for a variety of projects and they are all beautiful, but they seem more variations on a theme than distinct design directions. I would have loved to see more design exploration and less execution.

Pot holder.

Chek out Vivian Høxbro's website for other designs and knitting kits. I particularly like Wing Shawl 3.

If these images have wetted your appetite for new projects and you want to design something using this technique, consider that:

  • It's where different textures and colors meet that you see a pattern more clearly, so pay particular attention to the edges between areas.
  • Part of the optical effect is caused by alternating light and dark colors so if your colors are too close in value — as in light orange and medium orange for instance — the effect may be too subtle.
  • Light colors seem to advance and dark colors recede, so you can use this optical illusion to intensify or soften a particular effect.

Have fun!

June 8, 2006

Mashed potatoes

: purè di patate

What you need
— potatoes
— rock sea salt
— butter
— milk
cold tap water
— potato masher


  1. Put enough cold tap water in a pot so that the potatoes will be covered. Add sea salt and turn on the gas (or the electric range as — unfortunately — in my case). Cover with lid to speed the process.
  2. Put some milk in a small pot, better if with high sides, and bring to boil slowly keeping an eye on the the pot as you take care of other things.
  3. Wash the potatoes; if they are dirty use a scrubber. Red-skin potatoes tend to be smoother and cleaner than the Russet variety so I often just wash them under running water.
  4. Cut the potatoes in thick slices and then again in half. This will make them cook faster and more uniformly.
  5. When the water starts boiling, add the potatoes and reduce the heat to medium/medium-high to keep the water boiling more gently.
  6. After five minutes or so, check a potato piece with a fork. Different kinds of potatoes require different cooking times. Red-skins seem to be harder and take a little longer.
  7. When they are cooked, but not overcooked, drain most of the water. I keep a little bit of the cooking water to facilitate mashing.
  8. Mash with the potato masher and incorporate some butter.
  9. Put back on the fire at lower heat and start incorporating the hot milk a little at a time. The milk will be absorbed faster in small increments.
  10. Taste the mashed potatoes to see if they need more salt. If I need to add salt at this stage, I use fine sea salt instead of coarse. You can also add some freshly ground pepper.


Variety: I use either Russet or red potatoes depending on which kind looks better at the market. I like red potatoes when I want to keep the peel (good for speed and for retaining nutrients that are just under the skin). They have different textures and I like them both, but I am not fond of Russet potato skins… too chewy. Try other potato varieties as well; as a rule of thumb, get what's good locally.

I use unsalted so I have more control over the amount of salt in general.

I like whole milk (it tastes better), but you can substitute.

I've experimented with adding milk first and butter at the end, using cold milk instead of hot, and so on. This sequence (butter first, then hot milk) gives me better results in terms of texture and taste. Do your own experiments to find out what works best for you.

June 7, 2006

More Norwegian beauty

It seems that lately all of my inspiration comes from Norway. After falling in love with the designs in Poetry in Stitches, I looked for more books by Norwegian designer Solveig Hisdal. I didn't find any (someone correct me, please, if I am wrong!), but found more inspiration at Oleana, a Norwegian company for whom Hisdal has been designing since 1992.

The designs are simply stunning. Here are a few photographs I received from Oleana with permission to publish. Solveig Hisdal is the designer and photographer for all of them.

Photography and design: Solveig Hisdal, Oleana

Photography and design: Solveig Hisdal, Oleana

Photography and design: Solveig Hisdal, Oleana

Photography and design: Solveig Hisdal, Oleana

I don't really need words here, do I? All I can say is: if you want to buy me something, get me a large. Takk!

June 6, 2006

NY Sheep & Wool Festival

If you are into fiber and have never been to the New York Sheep & Wool Festival, a.k.a. Rhinebeck, consider going. Rhinebeck is a town in Dutchess County, upstate New York, where the fair takes place every year on the third weekend in October. This is one of largest events of its kind, second in the U.S. only to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. I've never been to Maryland, but I've heard from many spinners who have been to both fairs that, from a spinner's perspective, Rhinebeck has more to offer.

I've been to Rhineck twice, in 2002 and 2005. On the first trip I spent most of my time taking workshops and missed out on a lot of what was happening on the fair grounds. Last year, I decided to forget about workshops and see everything else.

The fair is a two-day event and an almost overwhelming sensory experience. As you walk past the entrance, you are flooded by the colors of fiber and finished producs, the sound and smell of the animals, the almost tangible fog of the barbecues, and the loud murmur of a very dense crowd. The past year, an insistent rain added mustiness and the scent of wet grass to the crisp air. And of course, by the time you get to the fair you've already been driving through the glorious countryside going ooh and aah looking at the fall foliage in various stages of gold and red. Technically, Dutchess County is not part of New England, but think New England when trying to picture the scenery. There's a reason they chose the third weekend in October for the festival. This is the best time of year, when the leaves turn to their most glamorous colors and professional photographers come here to shoot next year's calendars.

Since this was not my first visit, I made a beeline for a couple of vendors I wanted to hit right away. My first stop was at the nice folks who make the Journey wheel and, in my opinion, the best hand spindles on the market, known as Bosworth spindles or simply Bossies.

Jonathan and Sheila Bosworth.

The beautiful and perfectly balanced Bossies.

Spread over many buildings were booths with equipment and supplies for spinners, knitters, weavers, felters, and rug hookers. Felting had a much stronger presence than I remembered from my previous visit. I loved the bright felted balls and a village reproduction with all sorts of figurines — farm houses, farm animals, people and, surprisingly, mermaids. Too bad my camera battery was depleted when I saw those.

My favorite new find was probably the discovery of another husband and wife team — John and Sarina of Moving Mud — who make beautiful handcrafted glass objects. On display were a wide variety of buttons in different shapes and sizes, some beautiful closures and a pair of glass knitting needles.

Spinning and felting fibers were all over the place. My favorites are always the fall colors. On both occasions, I stocked up on mohair/wool blend clouds and slivers in autumn hues.

The animals on display included sheep, goat, llamas, alpacas, anad rabbits. They all competed in various categories. The funniest event was the "Leaping Llamas" competition, which saw llamas and alpacas jump an obstacle. Most of the time they weren't even trying and it was hilarious to see how their owners struggled to get them to at least push the obastacle down with their chests and walk through it. I know, I shouldn't make fun of them… I do pretty silly things, too, with my pets.

Thsi baby had beautiful eyelashes.

Fabric for rug hooking

Handknit vest by Margaret Klein Wilson of Mostly Merino.

Workshops + Demos
Workshops covered spinning, knitting, and rug hooking. Events ranged from fleece auctions to fleece-to-shawl competition, to pumpking chucking (throwing huge pumpkins with handmade catapults). Demos involved spinning wheels, looms, rabbit plucking, wine and food tasting, broom making and my very favorite at the end of the second day: falconry.

The People
Ninety percent of the audience, and possibly more, was female. I saw a few women with distinctive head coverings similar to those worn by the Amish. The crowd included home schoolers, farmers, H4 kids, recreational knitters and professional fiber artists. Among them I spotted actress Karen Allen of Indiana Jones fame, who owns a fiber arts boutique in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. It's a beautiful shop with exquisite products, mostly designed by Karen and two other fiber artists. Lots of knitted items and some original felted bags.

Aside from equipment and supplies, the fair offers a wide variety of products such as Orenburg shawls, viking felted hats, gemstones, clothing, and soaps. Not to mention that you can buy livestock. I had to promise Ben I wouldn't come home with a bunny and it was a hard promise to keep.

Other things to see in the area

Some things to know if you plan to go to the New York Sheep & Wool Festival:

  • Most people reserve accomodations a year in advance so, if you don't have friends in the area, be prepared to stay quite far from Rhinebeck.
  • If you are going with friends (it's so much more fun), make arrangements to meet at specific times and places during the day because cellphone reception on the fair grounds is almost inexistent.
  • Planning to buy large or heavy items? Remember that you may not be able to carry them with you on the plane and shipment may significantly impact the base cost. In most cases, grabbing a business card and ordering from home is a wiser choice.

June 5, 2006

Playground Project

I usually keep work and play separate, but this is a special case. Ben and I just launched a website for a documentary film on child sex trafficking and want to help the filmmaker any way we can. That's why we are telling everyone we know about this cause and hope that you will pass along the information.

Project Playground is a documentary in the making that is progressing slower than it could for lack of substantial funding.

Please, take a moment to read about it and, if you can, help. Thank you.

Artwork by Yoshitomo Nara

Off to England, maybe

My first shipment to my SP in England is finally on its way, but it may never get there.

I went to my local post office with a small package and a padded envelope properly addressed but without sender's information. It turns out that, after 9/11, it's not legal to mail anything without a return address. Jeez, like that's going to solve any terrorism problems. The postal worker would not take the packages unless I put down at least the town and zip code, which I did, but since I didn't put a name and street address there is a chance that my packages will end up at the dead letter office in Illinois, with no way for me to retrieve them. I suppose I could have written my name and address, but what's the point of a secret pal exchange if you do that? I am pissed. :(

Two balls of mystery fiber dyed by a friend of mine and four little skeins of wool/mohair/llama blend spun on one of my Bosworth spindles. I bought the fiber at last year's NY Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck.

These are also spindle spun and the fiber is a wool/mohair blend. I like these ones better than the others because they are not fuzzy (I blame the llama in the other blend). This fiber comes from Rhinebeck, too. I chose these colors because my SP shares my love for autumn hues.

June 4, 2006

Poetry in stitches

Solveig Hisdal, one of the Norwegian designers featured in Norsk Strikkedesign, has her own beautiful book: Poetry in Stitches. And poetry it is.

Poetry in Stitches
by Solveig Hisdal
ISBN 82-517-8435-2

This is the Fair Isle sweater I've been working on since April. Different yarn, different colors, 2/2 rib instead of picot edges, but it's this pattern.

June 3, 2006


Today was my guild's annual dyefest and it was blast. We were at Garen's house, a beautiful craftsman's house in the Hollywood area. We had a good turnout, including visitors from Santa Barbara and Ventura county.

Dyefest happens once a year, in June, and is always a fun day with lots of stuff going on. Our vendors brought all sorts of yarn, fiber and dyes for the occasion.

Mohair Tea Bag from Dizzy Ewe

Fiber from Stick & Stone Fibearts

Some already dyed fiber — optim from Custom Weaving

We didn't do our usual show-and-tell because the day was dedicated to dyeing, but John brought some beautiful woven pieces from his own handspun.

In addition to the usual pots and pans, dyes, and mordants, people brought all sorts of tools and devices, from a warper — to warp a specific length of skein to dye as self-striping sock yarn — to a salad spinner — to get as much water as possible out of dyed yarns and fibers before hanging them to dry.

The warp thingy

Apart from the usual Cushing protein dyes, I saw a new brand of organic dyes and some eucalyptus leaves.

Anne's pot

Twisted Ruth's pots

In the middle of it all, Garen's son — Leo — graced us with some baroque music on his harpsichord. When he heard that we had finally chosen an official location for our guild meetings and would not be meeting at people's houses anymore, he told his mother: "But I like it when the old ladies come here to dye". That sounded really funny.

I didn't do any dyeing this year, but I got some more spinning and plying done for my Secret Pal. Tomorrow I'll wash my skeins to set the twist, hang them to dry, and Monday I'll have my first package ready for England.

Andean ply

Almost ready to go

June 2, 2006

Piper … and a cast of thousands

Loona Fish joins Mr. Ping and a cast of thousands. I only have to move the sofas, look under the fridge or open the linen closet to find Piper's toys. They all end up being Piper's, because he's the one playing with them, hiding them and then finding them again in the middle of the night. That's when he starts singing to announce his finds, usually between 2AM and 4AM. We try to take away the noisy toys before bedtime, but we are not always entirely successful, so sometimes we wake up to the thump thump thump of a wine stopper going enthusiastically down the stairs, over and over. Someone likes to drop his toys on the top of the stairs and see them bounce.

Rubber wine stoppers are the best; they are the size and color of a small mouse, their irregular shape makes them bounce erratically, and they are easy enough to carry in his mouth for Piper to drop them, carry them up and drop them again, ad infinitum…

One of those nights when he was doing his Pavarotti stint, we found Piper in the hallway with all the toys he could find around the house gathered in one spot. What goes on in his little brain when he does that, I have no idea. Any other cat waking me up for no reason would drive me mad, but Pipie just cracks me up. He's the funny one. Kelvin, with all his chunkiness, is a very agile cat who lands exactly where he means to. Piper is a little uncoordinated goofball. One time, I found him with his head stuck inside an empty kleenex box. Wish I 'd taken a picture, but it would have been heartless.

And if you can't eat them, squash them.

Funky spinning

Not much spinning going on in the past couple of months as I've been bitten by the color-knitting bug. But that's all about to change. Tomorrow is Dyefest at my guild's meeting and since I don't have any fiber or yarn to dye, I'll spin (just got to make sure I don't bring the knitting). That way I'll finish my first little package for my SP in England.

In the next two months I am also planning to finally take up the wheel; I need to be proficient enough for a spinning workshop in August. With four of my spinning friends I signed up for Camp Pluckyfluff, a two-day spinning workshop in Placerville, Northern California, to run August 12-13. The people organizing the workshop are the same ones who published Handspun Revolution. The book is a gallery of funky handspun yarns with all sorts of inclusions, some stranger than others: sequins, silk coccoons, embroidered flowers, pieces of felted wool, zippers, even a doll. Some of their creations go for rather unbelievable prices on eBay.

Funky ain't really my thing, so why did I sign up? Well, some of my favorite people are going and I thought it would be fun. Afterwards, I rationalized it by thinking that it would broaden my spinning horizons. Actually, I think it will. I want to try other techniques, even though I doubt I'll ever use any of the yarn I make that way. I like my small gauge knitting too much. Whenever I bought novelty yarns in the past, they always ended up sitting pretty in some basket.

I should start thinking about what materials to use for my inclusions; maybe something from my stash that has no likely prospect of being used any time soon. The main thing, though, is to start using the wheel. So far, I haven't really taken to it, and it's a good wheel, too: a Majacraft Rose. It's just that I really like my spindles and that's what I've been using since I started spinning four years ago. I love their portability and that I can pick them up and put them down any time and any place. I can spin while I walk around the house; I don't have to do any set-up and sit down the whole time. The wheel just feels like work to me, while the spindles are fun. I'll post some pictures later if I get the time. Today is another busy day (aren't they all, lately?)

June 1, 2006

Happy anniversary Finland!

Today marks 100 years since Finland extended full political rights to all men and women. That included not only the right to vote, but also to stand for election. Before that day, only a minority of the male population had such rights so it was a true revolution that affected men as much as women. By comparison, Switzerland only gave women the right to vote in 1971. Almost unbelieavable, isn't it?

I've always felt strongly about the right to vote and I still get upset at election time here in the States where it seems that most people consider voting little more than an inconvenience. And to think of all the people that have lost their freedom and their lives fighting for that right.

Well done, Finland!

Designing Tessellations

If you are interested in designing tessellations — from simple repeats to complex representational interlocking patterns — this is the book.

I think my friend Lucia in Reggio Emilia will love this book. She used to make modular origami when I was still making cranes and inflatable frogs. I remember some tinsel Christmas ornaments: still making those, Lucia? Although two-dimensional, I think this book would appeal to her and inspire something creative and unexpected.

Designing Tessellations : The Secrets of Interlocking Patterns
by Jinny Beyer
ISBN 0809228661

Book chapters:

  1. What Are Tessellations?
  2. An Introduction to Symmetry
  3. Designing with Two-Dimensional Symmetries: The First Eleven Symmetry Groups
  4. Designing with Two-Dimensional Symmetries: The Last Six Symmetry Groups
  5. Designing with Linear Symmetry Groups
  6. Experimenting with Symmetry
  7. The Keys to Creating Interlocking Tessellations
  8. Refining Tessellations: Shape and Color
  9. Creating Geometric Tessellations
  10. Creating Representational Tessellations
  11. Metamorphosis

Categorizing symmetries is an example of the systematic approach to designing patterns throughout the book. It's reassuring to see that it's a system so even intricate designs á la Escher become possible.

While the books caters heavily to quilters (all the photographic examples are of quilts), once you learn how to design patterns, you can apply them to any project. I am thinking Fair Isle. :)

Creating Escher-like representational interlocking patterns

If you make something based on this book, let me know!