A View from Sierra County

Small town life and politics, lots of knitting, and travels with and without my five burros

My Photo
Location: In the Sierra Nevadas, United States

I blog about rural living and social issues, and the creativity that comes from knitting, as well as post random pictures of the Sierras and my burros. "In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society" - Simone de Beauvoir


Friday, September 30, 2005

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

As most of you are probably aware, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While in the past few years, the "Think Pink" campaign has grown to look primarily like a commercial hype to sell everything from socks to mixers made over in pale pink, there is still a huge national public health issue, as well as millions of personal stories, behind this hype. The Susan J. Komen Foundation is one of the groups most dedicated to raising both funds and awareness to find a cure for breast cancer, which is always in the top three list of diseases that kill women every year. They sponser Race for A Cure events throughout the country year-round, and use the money raised from these and other donations to fund research.

Avon has also been a huge backer of fundraising efforts through their own Walk for a Cure program. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Avon Foundation, funding access to care as well as research for a cure. These two entities support breast cancer research year round, not just in October, so I hope you will decide to support one of them in the coming year.

You may wonder what a blogger who normally writes about knitting and burros has to say about breast cancer. As a matter of fact, quite a bit. I decided this would be a good time and place to tell you the story of my family.

My mother's eldest sister developed breast cancer when I was still in high school, and she was barely post-menopausal. At that time (about 1970) radical mastectomy and radiation were the only treatments available, and we were all extremely grateful that she lived. In fact, she recovered from cancer and lived over two more decades.

I was just beginning to have children myself when my mother's middle sister went through her mastectomy and radiation, and the popular wisdom of the times (twenty years ago) told me that if I breastfed my babies, I would be protected against developing breast cancer later in life. I nursed my oldest for 21 months before my fertility returned, giving my hormonal cycle a decent rest. Imagine my shock to discover not just one, but three lumps in my breast shortly after the birth of my second child. I was only 28! My doctor who had provided backup for my midwives throughout my pregnancy and home birth was even more alarmed than I was; he had lost his wife at age 31 to breast cancer, leaving him the father of three motherless children not yet in school. He rushed me off to have my first mammogram, which would prove to be a baseline in years to come.... luckily for me, the results were negative and the lumps faded away over the months of more nursing.

I had a third child without incident, but was told I had fibrocystic breasts. This seemed reassuring at the time, as researchers were saying that women with fibrocystic breasts were less likely to develop breast cancer. My mother told me that she had suffered from the same lumpiness much of her adult life as well. I didn't give it much thought for several years, although I read the research, often conflicting, about what foods to eat and what to avoid. I was a vegetarian, eating a low-fat, whole grains diet, and not drinking much alcohol through this time, and felt somewhat confident.

Then my mother also developed breast cancer in her mid-60s. She also went through a mastectomy and radiation. I went to take care of my father while she was in the hospital, as he had developed Alzheimers at age 62, and thought she was on a vacation. I was relieved to learn that the doctors were confident she would end up cancer-free, as my father's problems were more pressing at that point, and I was now a single mother of three young children.

At the same time, my grandmother's youngest sister and her daughter both suffered through breast cancer... the daughter who was my mother's younger cousin, died at age 40, leaving school age children.

When I reached 40 in the mid 1990s, I didn't question whether I should get a mammogram annually; even though most women find their cancerous lumps themselves, it surely wouldn't hurt to try to be ahead of the game, since there was now conflicting research about whether my family represented an inherited cancer cluster. I still rated somewhere in the middle on risk questionnaires. In 1999, I went through the scare of a false positive and the need to wait on "pins and noodles" for the result of a retake, but I still faithfully make my appointments. I choose life and am proactive with my health... I still hope to see my grandkids that haven't even been born yet grow up.

Today, you can get tested to see if you have this genetic marker, although I have never been encouraged to do so. It appears that my family doesn't necessarily have a genetic propensity towards breast cancer, since almost all of the cases developed post-menopausally. There is also no living member of the family with active breast cancer to run the initial test for the genetic markers on, and there is also a marginal risk of being "pigeonholed" and discriminated against by insurance carriers... something someone like me, with a lengthly history of asthma (even though mostly controlled) doesn't need. The Komen Foundation website is an excellent source of information about weighing out the various risk factors you might have against the latest research.

My cousin and I remind each other to get our annual mammograms, and the "younger" generation has done ok so far... I have kept modifying my lifestyle to reduce my risk but find it ironic that it is now ok to drink a little, and eat chocolate! A significant decision I needed to make in the past few years was to forego hormone replacement therapy as I faced my own menopause. I have done well to keep exercising, to eat a healthy diet, and to live in moderation avoiding stress as much as possible. I also had to struggle with the benefits of being overweight (apparently, ten extra pounds can make menopause symptoms such as hot flashes less troublesome) being less important than the need to lose weight and cut my risk of developing cancer even further. I am happy to be at a healthy, appropriate weight for the past six months.

What will the future bring? These days, treatment is far more progressive than what my mother and her sisters suffered through, but I am hoping there will be a real cure within the decade. It isn't unreasonable. I know we women deserve it. Please, do me a favor, and make an appointment to get a mammogram this month. If you can't afford it, ask around. Here in my region, there is a program especially to pay for this important test for women without insurance or access to care. Maybe there is such a program where you live. Tell your woman friends, share my story, whatever it takes to get them to do monthly self-exams, and look out after themselves. If you think you are too young to need to worry about self-exams, or mammograms, do your homework anyway. Soon, someone you love will be affected by this disease, and you will be ready to provide support for them. If you are not sure how you can help, consider knitting chemocare caps for those undergoing treatment, or running or walking in one of the Komen or Avon events. Hey, wear pink! Whatever it takes to make other people more aware and bring about the momentum needed to get the research done to find a cure.....

There is Some Knitting

I do have some knitting news to share with you. Here is my Pink Ribbon washcloth, a pattern written by Donna Burgess, and available here.
This is the first time I have followed a reverse stitch pattern, but it is very similar to color knitting, in that it is fun to watch the design unfold while you are knitting. It is MUCH simpler than color knitting, as you don't need to worry about picking up or dropping colors, and the textural effect is really neat. The Knitting Knonsense website where Donna's Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon design can be found has dozens of other relief-motif designs to catch your interest.

That said, I have to confess to what you can't tell from this photo... I have been making lots of washcloths using the diagonal Grandma's Favorite pattern for Cloths for Katrina, and didn't bother to worry about gauge - just dove in and started knitting using the same Addi Turbo needles I have been working with. However, this design was obviously for someone who knit tighter than me, or at least dropped down a few needle sizes... this cloth is almost big enough to be a small hand towel, but, of course, not quite. I am not sure what I am going to do with it - the size is approximately 7 x 9 inches, and too large to use as a washcloth. Looks pretty neat, though, doesn't it.... hmmm.

These two cloths rest at the top of a box of ten washcloths bound for Louisiana, along with twelve bars of shea butter soap, donated by my friend Susan, who runs Two Rivers Gift Gallery here in Downieville. Peggy made about three-fourths and I made the rest.

Here in Northern California, we appear to be sliding right through the last of the fall weather, and heading towards temperatures dropping about twenty degrees by Sunday. I am hoping to get a chance to admire some fall foliage in the high country, and should also be thinking about an appropriate Product Review for Monday that will reflect a change in knitting priorities along with the change in the weather. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

This is Your Brain on Knitting!

Your Brain's Pattern

You have a dreamy mind, full of fancy and fantasy.
You have the ability to stay forever entertained with your thoughts.
People may say you're hard to read, but that's because you're so internally focused.
But when you do share what you're thinking, people are impressed with your imagination.

I thought this was an interesting quiz, which I found courtesy of Sallee. I do spend a lot of time developing ideas, working through worries and fantasies, etc. At least half of the patterns to select from didn't appeal to me at all... try it yourself and see what you get.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Product Review: Den-M-Nit


Yarn name: Den-M-Nit Pure Indigo Cotton
Weight: Worsted weight
Size: 50 gram ball/100 yards
Fibers: 100 %cotton
MSRP: $3.25 per ball

This is a fascinating product, just from the point of view of someone like me, who is interested in the history and development of textiles. According to the label band, it is made in the UK especially for Elann, and is "rope dyed: its dye coats only the surface of the yarn, ensuring that with wear and washing, the yarn's white core will be exposed, enhancing your garment with a genuine faded jeans look.

Indigo is one of the primary dye plants, from earliest times, and its dyeing process is unique, in that the color "blooms" as air hits the finished product when pulled from submersion in the dye vat (where it looks green, not blue!). One of the qualities of working with a rope dyed yarn is that the color comes off on your hands as you knit. Another thing to watch out for is that the finished object will shrink by 10-15% in the dryer after the first washing. I bought a few balls to make Cloths for Katrina, and plan to give the washcloths a good soaking in very hot water to bleed off any excess dye, then throw them in the dryer... if they shrink too much, they will have to become baby washcloths! Although classified as a worsted weight yarn, I found that it seems "stringy" in my hands as I knitted it, and the weave seemed loose, however, I can tell it will fluff out a bit as it is washed, worn, and aged.

I found a great site with lots of information about using indigo dyed yarns for you to get more information. Trying interesting new yarns like this one will keep knitting an adventure!

Have a great week, everyone.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Risky Knitting

I have been reading with interest the conversation on the Knitters at Work list about knitting and reading at the same time, and you should go over to Jane's blog and see the cool method she uses to clip books open and read while she knits. Now, even though I have been knitting for 45 years (yes, since I was a five-year old tyke), I have not even tried to master knitting and reading at the same time. But, I thought I would give it a try last night.

I knew that I needed to get to work on the gift purse, and pulled out the lovely aubergine wool (don't you just LOVE the word "aubergine"?) and read the beginning of the directions... cast on and knit in the round for 13 inches. Now that sounds easy enough, and so I thought I would try knitting while reading blogs. I didn't need to get any fancy clips, and I am behind on my blog surfing, missing my e-buddies. This was working great, as I only have a dial-up modem, and could check in on my work while pages loaded, and get a good start on the purse. Maybe I could move on to books later...

However, this morning, I realized I should have been practicing my reading on the directions to the project. There is a cute little ruffle that I was planning to make out of a grey-violet wool that gets added in at the top of those first 13 aubergine inches, and somehow, I had never read that it should be made with one strand of feltable wool and one strand of Kid Royal .... sheesh! I had looked at the directions at least a few times to figure out how much yarn to order and had missed this part entirely.

So, here I was, before breakfast, trying to rifle through my stash and figure out what would be a good carry-along to match my project. I settled on a fluffy blues and purples novelty called Amsterdam that I got at a close-out sale awhile back, and THEN went back to the directions to check and see how much yardage I was supposed to have... after I had cast on the 180 stitches on size 15 needles. Nothing like taking chances - will I make it? I have 71 yards and the yarn called for has 104. Now, I am not the greatest with math, but even I can tell this is far short... so, I am asking myself, "I wonder, how much of that yarn did the designer really use?". After all, the pattern calls for five rows of this yarn carried along with the wool. The ruffle is made separately, on larger needles, then attached to the body of the purse in a clever decrease row, so I decided to give it a try, and have made it through the four rows before I need to attach it... only one row to go! Nothing like living dangerously, for a knitter. I'll keep you posted. I did decide to abandon my plan to try knitting and typing blog entries at the same time.

Here's what I was doing this lovely fall afternoon... participating in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the restored two-stamp gold mill in Forest City. That's me, to the right (the really short one with ash brown hair). This project has taken six years and lots of volunteer effort... the fellow on the far left is holding a certificate of appreciation for being our volunteer committee chairman. The steam engine in the background was fired up and ran one of the stamps several times through the afternoon.

I wanted to share this great mural with you, painted over 100 years ago on the back wall of the meat market, over the door leading to the shopkeeper's quarters. This building has been a home for decades, but somehow the mural has survived intact. The new owner, Dale, is 100% committed to preserving it.

I hope you are all keeping good thoughts and sending out prayers to those affected by Hurricane Rita. Although I did not know anyone personally who was affected by Katrina's devastation, it turns out that several friends or relatives of friends are affected this time by Rita. I just heard from jewelry designer Leslie, in Dallas, whose husband Chuck has many relatives evacuated, as does my friend Ed, who attended the event today, while doing some construction on my brother-in-law Doug's Forest City house. Ed and my DH, Glenn, have been friends for 30 years, and Ed's eldest son Jacob and wife and baby were forced to evacuate from just north of Galveston to his wife's family in San Antonio. Ed's former girlfriend, Rachel, had returned home to relatives in Louisiana two years ago, and they are all living in the affected area. Another friend, who used to live here in the Sierras, is now in the Lake Charles area, and had to evacuate, but her boyfriend and (adult) son, chose to stay behind, and we are all concerned for their safety. I know many of you have similar stories to ponder tonight. Be well.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

My son and daughter came over to spend the night and DS pointed out that I have been slacking in my blogging efforts. So, what have I been doing? I assumed directorship of the local child care center, The Good Years Children and Families Center just about a month ago, and have been getting up to speed. We started our afternoon preschool/kindergarten enrichment program two days a week, last week.

We spent one afternoon painting... Posted by Picasa

We have time for stories and singing. Posted by Picasa, but we don't have much time left over for knitting, as I also still work for the local clinic... I have given up almost all of my former volunteer activites, except knitting for Cloths for Katrina, since I spend 11 hours a day working for non-profits, as well as a few on the weekends. I am hoping to get to the point where I have a life again sometime soon.

I was very excited to get Stephanie's new book Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter, in the mail earlier this week... it is great reading, and I have already ordered a second copy for my dear friend, Beatyanne, of the famed sweater tree ornaments. I am spreading out the light reading to have something cheery to look forward to on the most demanding days.

This is the view out the door of my office, rather grey today. The river is still there, just over the bank, but the leaves are turning and it's too cold in the water for swimming. Posted by Picasa Who has time, anyway?!

As for knitting, I sat down last night, determined to finish the second cap sleeve to Nikki's top, so as to show her it was almost done when she arrived, and I did get to the end, but when I pulled the other one out of the bag and compared, it was larger! Now, to figure out which sleeve is the correct one and which has to be frogged... I am so annoyed I am not even willing to take a picture to share. On top of it, I HAVE to start on the purse for my quilt club Secret Pal, since there is only two weeks until the party (when it has to appear felted, dry, and prettily wrapped). I also have a baby hat to make and the mother is 8 1/2 months pregnant (do you think I am running out of time yet?).

I am not a procrastinator, and would have all of this done, and be able to start the Candle Flame shawl pattern I just found if I weren't working so dang many hours (now that I am working around even younger children I am determined not to curse, even about knitting mistakes). Trying not to tear my hair out, how are you?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Product Review: Berrocco Cotton Twist


Yarn name: Cotton Twist
Weight: Worsted weight
Size: 1.75 oz. hank/85 yards
Fibers: 70% mercerized cotton; 30% rayon
MSRP: $6.95 per hank

This yarn has a high sheen, and picks up the light really beautifully. It has a definite twist, which comes with a lot of mercerized cottons, however, it is also easy to split the thread while knitting, a feature of the rayon portion which drives me nuts! I bought a bag of this in a discontinued shade from Elann earlier this spring, intending to use it to make a spring Clapotis, however decided it was much brighter than I wanted when it arrived and we met in person. I set the bag aside, but began making an easy tank top in August. I am not entirely happy with the way it made up, as I had to drop down two needles sizes, instead of my usual one, to get the correct gauge. The company recommends size 8 but that produced a very sleazy, loose fabric lacking the body a garment needs. I got the required gauge and started on the top, but still have the feeling of the weave being a little too loose; only wearing and washing will tell how this fabric holds its shape (or not). Berrocco claims that you can machine wash knitted garments on delicate that have been placed in a sweater bag, then lay flat to dry, which will be a plus.

Here's a photo of my Cotton Twist top, almost completed. I have since finished the knitting, and need to edge the neck and armhole openings to match the bottom edging, which is a heavy rayon perle cotton in one of the shades of blue. Posted by Picasa

Sallee is making a summer stole from the same batch of yarn from Elann, and I am mailing off my leftover hanks to her. I do think the results will be lovely, but am not sure the shine is worth the work. All that glitters is not gold.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Raccoons Kept Me Awake

Are you looking for a good excuse next time you have a non-productive day... try telling your friends, co-workers or boss that "raccoons kept me awake". It was 3:38 A.M. when the whole thing started; I know, because I looked at the clock and couldn't figure out why I was awake right then.... I have been doing pretty well to avoid insomnia for several months now. Then, I heard the scuttling of light, little feet on the porch outside the french doors in our bedroom.

Now, for several days we have been trying to figure out who the night visitors are. First, something stole (actually, ate) our four goldfish, who were happily living in our half barrel water garden right outside the bedroom door. They were about 4-5 inches long apiece, so we ruled out the garter snake that had kept trying to annoy them by swimming through their space earlier this summer; couldn't get something that big in its mouth. Then, we noticed that the porcelain sphere that normally floats in the water was appearing out on the lawn... my co-worker C.C. suggested "first they snack, then they play" -whatever critter this was.

So, I crept out of bed, and tiptoed over to the door, peering out in hopes of catching a visitor... instead, there were THREE! There was a large object waddling along on the lawn, and it appeared that the other two were smaller. They weren't just sniffing around my inner yard, the fence of which is festooned with a 50-year old grape vine bearing fruit - they were cavorting! One was even standing up on hind legs, attempting to peer into our stone birdbath located in the middle of the yard.

I moved to another window in the kitchen, hoping to get a better view, but the moon was moving away from the yard and much of it was in dark shadows. I decided that this must be the fox mother and kits our local storekeeper had told me was denning up just at the bottom of the hill our tiny town rests upon, near the main highway. This mama has been pretty bold, even taking her kits by the store parking lot in daylight.

I tried to go back to sleep, but had a troublesome meeting to attend in the morning, and began worrying about different aspects. I was trying to put it out of my mind when I heard more scampering around on the porch boards about 45 minutes later. I popped out of bed once again, but couldn't see anything moving around in the inner yard, so moved to a window in the parlor, where I could see an animal up on its hind legs, trying to figure out if what it heard (me) was a threat. I moved to the kitchen once again, and looked out the kitchen door window that faces onto our drive, where I could see something walking towards the door. When I flicked on the porch light, it beat a hasty retreat, but not before positive identification as a bona fide "roundcoon", as my kids called them when they were little, could be made.

Dang! I would have felt a lot more tolerant about foxes, even though my Jack Russell terrier had gone through the window a few times trying to "defend" our house against an intruding, teasing fox that would sit at the edge of the yard or drive waving its tail at the poor dog. Raccoons are portrayed in anthropomorpic cartoons as cute and clever, I mean they have such darling tiny hands, and they even wash their food... The reality is that they can get quite nasty and aggressive, especially when hapless homeowners or campers begin putting out food regularly. They will actually growl at you and attack pets. Not something I want to encourage. My cat has taken to sleeping out in the barn, and now I know why... she is afraid to meet up with them on the porch, looking to find her food dish still full.

I returned to bed a second time, but now it was 5:00 AM, just a half hour before the alarm was set to ring, and I was worrying about how best to get rid of the raccoons before they became pests. I dragged myself out of bed several minutes after the alarm went off, wishing I didn't face an hour and a half drive to the early meeting, which would probably last all day and be unpleasant at that. As I was taking my pre-dawn walk, I kept an eye out for critters, but they had already headed to bed.

Turns out that this trio did much more partying that getting a cheap sugar high off my grapes... they had also entered our tenants' house across the drive through an open back door (it is still somewhat summery around here, though cooler at night), and feasted on close to 20 pounds of cat food! Can't you just see it... news going around the raccoon network about this great spa/vacation resort up on the hill with grapes to get drunk off of, and plenty of hor-d-ouvres... Now, I don't want to harm the raccoons, but we better come up with a plan to get them moving on... telling your boss that raccoons kept you awake is the kind of unbelieveable story that probably wouldn't even work the first time, so no more sleepless nights caused by frolicking raccoons can be allowed :)

Friday, September 16, 2005

How's that September Knitting Coming?

I don't know about the rest of you, but my September knitting got derailed by Katrina... I started in helping make Cloths for Katrina, and simply haven't gotten anything else done. I am going to have to force myself to switch gears tomorrow and show some progress. Here's what's on the menu for September:

1. Sew up and finish off tank tops... they are really, truly (almost) done, and just need some last work... but it is already half-way through the month. Oh, woe is me!

2. Make the ruffled felted bag in Pursenalities as a gift for my quilt club Secret Pal.. our final gifting of the year takes place in just about a month, at a lovely outdoor potluck at Beatyanne's (some of my faithful readers will remember her as the maker of tiny knitted sweaters). She has a wonderful mountain home at about 6000 feet elevation to the east of Downieville, and the colors are always turning by the time we have this delicious feasting party, which is the week after our annual show. Did I tell you about the show yet? The Mountain Star Quilters hosts an annual quilt show extravaganza, called "Fall Colors", the first full weekend in October, in the Community Hall in Downieville... there is still time to get reservations and enjoy a real fall vacation. Unlike most parts of California, this area experiences all four seasons - sometimes it feels like on the same day!

3. Make and felt a cell phone pouch for my dear niece, whose birthday was a month ago (don't worry, she did get an actual present ahead of the date). This will be a prototype for an item I am designing to put in our crafts co-op, and if I can get a few done, they will be available for seasonal sales this winter.

4. Looking at my list, I can't decide if it would be overly ambitious to add something for myself... I still want to get started on my own Clapotis, however my delightful alpaca yarn is in pastel shades of pinks and banana yellow, which doesn't sound very fall-like. Right now, I am drawn to the rich colors the fashion industry is featuring for fall... the aubergines, deep golds, teals, garnets and burgundy reds... and have been considering getting a green tweed coat for winter. I have been debating about getting this one from Chadwicks, or this really stylish model from J. Crew... I can't bring myself to spend what J. Crew is asking, and keep thinking that I could donate more money to the Red Cross, make more cloths, and even buy lots of yarn for the price difference. I also have a wonderful green scarf that I won in a contest Marguerite had last spring, just waiting to be worn all winter long with a green tweed coat. Somehow, my chosen Clappy yarn is telling me it might be an early spring wrap.

My office is cluttered with yarns waiting to be turned into shop projects, or hats for the family, so small knitting might be pushing a special personal item aside. There are yarns waiting to be baby booties and baby hats, different yarns waiting to become beanies for snowboarding and scarves to sell at the shop. There is even yarn in the freezer (I know that sounds wacky, but that is where I put thrift store finds that might have moth eggs or other buggy contamination, to chill for a few weeks and kill anything before mixing with any other yarns in the household) that might be good to swatch up with something from Jean Frost's Jackets in mind... I actually feel a little overwhelmed by the choices. Maybe I should just tackle 1, 2 and 3 on my list before worrying about 4!

Package from Elann

How exciting to find a small box with Elann's return address awaiting me last night in my post office's package locker (bless their hearts, they put keys to the package lockers in your mailbox so you don't have to come back and get the package).

I had ordered enough skeins of Highland Wool to make a felted cell phone pouch for my niece in Carmine Pink and New Leaf, and enough Aubergine to make a felted purse for my quilt club Secret Pal... how wonderful the colors looked together, although it was too dark to bother with a photo.

I also ordered something unusual... Den-M-Nit Pure Indigo cotton, guaranteed to fade just like blue jeans! I decided this would be fun to make up into washcloths for my sons, while I am in the cloth mode.

Cloths for Katrina has grown to 263 members by yesterday morning, and boxes of washcloths and soaps are starting to arrive at the contact peoples' homes, who are then driving to nearby shelters they have made arrangements with... this is all grassroots, volunteer effort, with no money changing hands at all. All the group participants have agreed to either cover their own shipping costs, or team up with someone who can, and many are getting soap donated, teaming up with a local soapmaker, or making it themselves to send along... it is awesome what people can do when they put their minds to it! I picked up ten more cloths, made by my dear friend and local Home Ec teacher, Peggy, out of leftovers, which she had turned into very appealing stripe combinations, and ten luscious bars of shea butter soap, donated by her employer, Susie, the owner of a local gift store/gallery here in Downieville called Two Rivers. If you are ever in the area, stop in.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Product Review: Sugar N' Cream or Peaches and Cream?

I know this title sounds like a diet-buster, but these are both worsted weight cottons produced for practical, washable items such as washcloths, and the Cloths for Katrina group has lots of people using them right now, so I decided to share my thoughts with you.

Cone of Peaches and Cream in background, with partly completed washcloth draped over, and Sugar N' Cream in the front. Posted by Picasa

Peaches and Cream:

Manufacture: Cotton Clouds
Size: 16 oz. cone/840 yards
Fibers: 100% unmercerized cotton
MSRP per cone: $14.95

The color range in the cones is pretty limited, but I have made 6 washcloths from one cone so far, and am only about halfway through it. The texture is rougher than the Sugar and Cream below, but durable. Perfect for this application.

Sugar N' Cream

Manufacture: Lily
Size: 16 oz. cone/805 yards (also available in smaller balls)
Fibers: 100% natural cotton (natural is the word used by JoAnn's site)
Jo Ann sale price per cone: $10.49

Sugar N' Cream comes in lots of solid colors when you buy the smaller balls, and in ombres as well, although for some reason the latter has less yardage per ball than the solids. I find the Lily brand to have a softer, fluffier hand, and the washcloths at our house have been made from it for years. It softens with repeated washings.

There are other brands of this same product, such as Lion Brand Cotton (which used to be called "Kitchen Cotton", and Bernat Handicrafter, but I have not used either. There is also an even fluffier cotton from Bernat, called Cottontots, that I have never found, but will have to order online and try out. One knitter in the Katrina group insists that this makes the softest facecloth of all. Are you dying to get started on some cloths now? Hope so....

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A New Way to Bind Off

Although my Cloths for Katrina buttons have "disappeared" into cyberspace on the left there, the group itself is going so strong - we are now close to 250 members in just over a week, all of them working feverishly making washcloths for shelters in TN, LA, MI, and AL (and probably someplace else I am overlooking). I will have the buttons fixed by tomorrow, but don't let that stop you from joining in this effort - even if you just make one washcloth, it will be a bright spot in someone else's life. In other relief effort news, knitters have donated $82,063.43 through the Give A Little site put up by Margene and Susan, so check them out too!

I mailed off my first shipment of washcloths on Friday, with four from Peggy, my fellow crafts co-op knitter, and five from me, and have finished one and a half more, but decided to finish the two tank tops haunting me before the summer is officially over September 21st, on the Autumnal Equinox. In doing so, I discovered a really cool method of binding off ribbing, called the Elastic Bind Off, and decided I needed to take some pictures and share this with all of you:

Step 1 - Along two rows preceding bind off row, work only the knit stitches and slip the purl stitches purlwise, with the yarn in front. This photo shows the carried thread - looks a lot like the elastic thread you see sewn into commercial garments at edges. Posted by Picasa

Step 2 - Insert tapestry needle in selvedge stitch, from front to back or left to right. (If the following stitch is a knit stitch, insert in 2 stitches at the same time). Slip stitch (or both stitches) from needle and pull thread tight. I don't have a picture of this step, since I didn't get the brilliant idea of documenting this cool technique till I was midway along.

Step 3 - Insert needle in following stitch, from left to right (or from front to back). Pull thread. Leave stitches on left-hand needle. Posted by Picasa

Step 4 - This one isn't very clear, but now from right to left insert tapestry needle in last stitch (which is no longer on knitting needle) and in following stitch. Posted by Picasa

Step 5 - Insert once more, from right to left, in stitch nearest point of left needle. Pull thread. Slip these two stitches off the needle; they are now "bound off"! Posted by Picasa

This photo shows the completed elastic bind-off method. Note the yarn being carried between the slipped purl stitches on the row below the bind-off. Posted by Picasa

This bind-off takes quite a bit longer, but results in a very giving edge, appropriate for a place where ribbing needs to give and not be tighter than the rest of the knitted fabric. I also fell into a meditative rhythm: "left to right, right to left, right to left, off the needle, now once again, left to right, right to left, right to left, then off the needle" that was very soothing.

I also managed to get halfway through the first of two cute little cap sleeves to go with this top for my DD, a Bouton d' Or design called Fericy, from last year's spring collection, and to finish the Cotton Twist tank top I have been making for myself, at least the knitting part. I will still need to work in the ends, and crochet around the neck and armhole edges. That top is destined to be worn under a suit jacket this fall, so will get some use in spite of the falling thermometer.

I took this photo Saturday afternoon, before completing the front straps, which are joined to the back straps with a two-needle bind off. Posted by Picasa

Cotton Twist will be the subject of an up and coming Monday Product Review, but tomorrow's yarn review will be a compare and contrast of the cottons people are using for the Cloths for Katrina, so come by for a visit.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Where the Wild Things Are

My knitting life for the past several days has consisted of making face cloths for Cloths for Katrina, which is good, because they are mindless, get done quickly and are for a very good cause. I have made four so far, and have a fifth on the needles. The Cloths group has grown to close to 150 members, all making washcloths, with three members in charge of distribution to regional churches, shelters and other direct service sites.

Making clohts is also good, because the last two weeks have gone by in a blur, as I attempt to work two jobs, both for demanding non-profits, and to fit two shifts in at our crafts cooperative. I don't have any time left to think about solving a more complex knitting problem and need the solace and instant gratification of results.

Did anyone mention when are you going to get a life? I have been wondering that myself, as I drive home at 7 PM, having left somewhere around 12 hours before.... is all of this really worth it?

Yesterday afternoon, in the midst of the chaos came a moment, well actually about 10 minutes, where I got a glimmer of why it's all worthwhile. I just started directing a day care/preschool program, and have been putting back together the shambles of finances, sick workers and sick children, and a facility in need of cleaning and repair. Our afternoon had been long, crowded and hot. There was a shift in energy when the one kindergartner needing a ride to the bus home from elementary school left with my co-worker and two younger children. I noticed that two five-year olds had begun an imaginative play where one was chasing the other and hissing... I was told that she was "not just a snake, but a python". The other started roaring and making claws from fingers to brandish about, and informed me that he was "Godzilla"... to my ultimate amusement, a two-year old observer began hissing like a python as well. The two younger toddlers in the room were mesmerized.

Now many saner people would have tried to stop the running around this generated, or to channel the children outside or somehow diffuse the energy, but for me this was a very exciting event. When my (now-grown) children were preschool age, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, was the most heavily-read book in the house. I applaud imaginative play as the most necessary tool in early childhood development, and want children to become creative adults capable of thinking critically. After all, the world needs more knitters and other artists, and it certainly needs more problem-solvers. What better role models of creativity for the toddlers than three slightly older children having a blast with their imaginations running wild (quite literally!).

The mood was broken when the absent group of one adult and two toddlers returned; it was too complicated and magical to try to explain that this had been a very beneficial experience for us all... I could only be thankful to have been an observer, not a director, and to have witnessed children inventing their own activities. THAT is why I am doing this, and I am grateful to be given a reminder when I am most tired and unsure.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Feel Like Helping?

Kitt and Sallee have started a new KAL, called "Cloths for Katrina" to collect hand-made washcloths and soap for Katrina survivors... Kitt rode out three hurricanes last year in Florida, and wanted to give back for all the support and caring she and her neighbors received, and has written a very heart-warming and inspiring welcome message to send to those who join this Yahoo group.

All you have to do is knit, crochet, or weave one or more washcloths, and then contact them about where to send it, along with a bar of soap... an easy way to help. My fellow co-op member, Peggy, and I have seven ready to send out, and I am contacting our soap-making community members to get a few donations. I have added both of their buttons to my sidebar at the left, in hopes that my visitors will take one, and spread the word.

Here's part of the stack of facecloths that Peggy and I contributed from the Mountain Harvest Crafts Co-op. I will be continuing to make cloths as my carry-around project this month. Posted by Picasa

In another small effort, my friend Susan, owner of the North Fork Coffee Company in Downieville, decided to dedicate all the money she collected on Thursday and Friday to donate to relief efforts. Susan has 58 relatives in the affected area that she had not been able to contact by this weekend, and please keep her and her family in your prayers.

I edited this entry this evening to add the following photo:

Here is a photo of the North Fork Coffee Company in Downieville, with lots of people waiting around outside for the annual Donkey Races to start on Sunday. Posted by Picasa

It helps my soul to hear about similar small efforts all around the country (and apparently the world). We each have so much within us to give.

Product Review: Knitpicks Wool of the Andes


Yarn name: Wool of the Andes
Weight: Worsted weight
Size: 50 g. ball/110 yards
Fibers: 100% peruvian wool
Ben Franklin price per ball: $1.79 per ball

I picked WOTA to feature this week for several reasons. First, the point in starting this weekly yarn review feature was to share my experience with a yarn in hopes of helping someone else decide if it was a good choice for them. I have used this yarn on several felted items since I first discovered it last winter, and have been pleased with the results. The wool is soft, felts up quickly and densely when used double and Knitpicks now has a range of 36 different colors. I do think it might run a little, but then hot water might do that to any number of items.

The second reason is that winter is coming and this is one of the most affordable worsted weight yarns I have found. It is very comparable to Elann's peruvian wool, and slightly cheaper per skein, giving you an affordable option to whip up a winter sweater or make some Christmas gifts.

Also, I have been gathering together a few items to send to Margene and Susan for prizes for the Knitters' Disaster Relief Fund effort they have been mounting, and included four skeins of WOTA in Evergreen... one of the hazards of ordering yarn online is that you can't really tell the color accurately, and have to hope you guessed right. Well, I didn't with this particular color. I would suggest purchasing the yarn color card for $1.50 next time you order from Knitpicks, as this is a real workhorse of a yarn that you might find you want to use for a lot of different items. It is also possible to purchase WOTA in 220 yard, undyed hanks, so that you can create your own colors. How cool is that?! If you haven't ever done any dying, I recommend it highly - either with plant dyes, Kool-Aid, or even powdered commercial dyes.

This is one of the felted bags I have made using WOTA. Posted by Picasa

I don't normally edit posts once I publish them but didn't have access to photo tools over the holiday weekend and decided to add this photo Monday night.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A Knitters' Relief Effort

I have added a new sidebar to tell those who don't know yet to check out the Knitters' Relief Challenge mounted by Margene and Susan in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She and I were obviously being overwhelmed at the same time, and I agree with her statement that life will never be the same. Along with keeping track of knitters' donations to relief charities, they are collecting cool knitting stuff for a weekly prize drawing and to put up some auctions to raise additional funds. I will be pulling together a box of prizes tonight to send off in the mail, and hope you will do the same. One of the prizes I will be sending is the mohair Airy Scarf I have been working on this week, in a beautiful shade of deep lavender... pictures tomorrow, along with photos of rock cairns, a human-made phenomenon that has been occuring in our river the past four summers, as well as other rivers throughout the West (it's fun to do and looks really cool, and acknowledges the temporary condition of all things).

Blessings to all who are well, and prayers for those who are not.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Like many people in this country, I have spent the last several days trying to comprehend the scale of disaster left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It is still almost impossible for me to believe that an entire city the size of New Orleans has been completely wiped out... yes, there are buildings standing, but the flooding has made the city uninhabitable, for possibly the next four to six months, according to the latest information available.

No disaster in my lifetime equals that statement. I have met people whose relatives survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which leveled the city and forced its inhabitants to life across the bay while the city rebuilt. There were far less of them and the toxins we were able to produce 100 years ago less deadly. My mother's generation lived through the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the effects on the nation were the most pervasive from such a single event, but the town operated around their loss. The 9-11 attacks almost brought New York City to a standstill, and greatly changed how our lives went forward from that day on, but the city remained and could pull together and rebuild.

In this case, every resident of New Orleans will be dispersed somewhere else, and many may never have the wherewithal to return. It is hard to predict yet how much of the city will be rebuilt and what kind of character it will have when resurrected. It is almost beyond my thinking to absorb how many people will be affected and in what ways -- where will they all live in the meantime? how will they start over?

I have worked in the public sector most of my life, as a teacher, and then this summer working for two small non-profits. Both of these non-profits live on the edge financially. The medical clinic serves 80% of our resident population and a raft of tourists who suddenly find themselves ill or in an accident. Being essential has not been enough; we have also had to be resourceful and continually search for funding. The same is true with the children's center program I recently assumed directorship of; the program has had trouble with cash flow from the beginning and is too small to access much of the grant funding out there. I drove home from work last night trying to think of ways to save money in my own budget and create more padding in my life, just in case one of my jobs can't pay me on time this fall.

However, after watching the latest scenes of devastation in the South, I went to sleep grateful that my life is so safe and easy in comparison. This disaster is our tsunami, as trite as that sounds, and I hope that our country can pull together in much the same way as people did last December. One phrase I heard repeatedly from news reporters was "We are facing a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions in this country's history". We are all lucky to have avoided the political turmoil other countries have faced in the past, leading to mass movements of people trying to be safe. However, now we have possibly over a million people in our own country who face long-term displacement as a result of a natural disaster.

I am never sure how many peoples lives I touch, or who actually reads my blog, but in this instance I am hoping I can influence a few other people, because I think there are three important steps each of us can take to help ease this crisis:

1. Make a donation to the American Red Cross, today, this week, however small. They are mobilizing the largest relief force they have ever mounted and do an excellent job. My brother-in-law David served as a relief worker last year following Hurricane Ivan, and states that the Red Cross is in the best position to manage such efforts, but this will certainly tax their reserves. Then, figure out what you can do without for the next month, and make ANOTHER donation at the beginning of October... they will surely need it. Maybe it will be going out to eat, movies, clothes, wine, maybe even yarn, but we all have the resources to live well enough for a while on less, and divert some of our resources to help others get through this crisis.

2. Pray, meditate, whatever it is you do personally, do it now, with all your might. We are powerful in numbers and our energy needs to be directed towards helping. The fact that National Guard services need to be applied to stopping looting for more than essential food to eat is appalling to me when people are still stranded on rooftops. Our culture obviously needs more healing energy directed towards its ills.

3. Cut back on driving and help the country manage on the gas available. There must be some place you don't really need to go, and you will be helping us all keep being able to afford to do what is essential. This particular disaster differs from other events in that it has the potential to place a huge burden on all of us, as gas shortages may be inevitable and prices are only going to go up. Yes, our culture needs an AA program for our gasaholism, but the situation resulting from the damage from Katrina may go down in history as something more like a "cold turkey" program than entering a rehab facility. If you have been thinking about getting a hybrid electric car, now may be the most opportune moment. For me, this third point will probably mean no cruising in the back woods this year, and no trips this fall... I was able to sign up for a work-related training I need to take online instead of traveling to a remote city in the Midwest, and can probably dodge a few other such meetings and events as well for a while.

Lastly, not a numbered point or part of any program, but just a message from my heart to yours, be sure and hug the people you love and be extra thankful today for being alive.