Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wild Wool and Wicked Weed: Unwinding in Asheville

The vibrant hand-dyed skeins by Miss Babbs drew lots of admiring customers.

No, even though I did go to artsy, alternative Asheville this past Saturday, I haven't turned into a hippie chick.  Wicked Weed isn't an illicit substance, but rather, a restaurant where a friend and I ate, after spending several pleasurable hours at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF) in Fletcher, NC. The restaurant and brewery gets its name from the following statement attributed to Henry VIII: "Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed."  Our relaxed meal there, amidst an eclectic crowd, was a festive end to our day at SAFF, where we perused what seemed like acres of yarn, fiber, and tools for spinning, weaving, and knitting.

SAFF and Asheville provided a perfect respite for me and my companion, as we are both school teachers in a time and a place where there seems to be a perfect storm blowing through public education, especially in the state of North Carolina.  I won't go into the boring details here.  Suffice it to say, the escape from weekend chores and obligations (both home- and school-related) was sorely needed, and as we drove through the rolling foothills towards our destination, the burdens of the week began to subside.    

 Here, Andrea enjoys a relaxing moment communing with an
English angora rabbit.  It took lots of self-restraint not to take this
bunny home with me. 

This llama's neck was so silky soft.  

At SAFF we were able to handle soft angora rabbits, luxurious llama, alpaca, and bison yarns and fleece, and talk with vendors and some Cottage Yarn regulars whom I saw browsing the stalls.  As I am about to embark on another period of "yarn fasting," I tried not to walk out of the festival in typical fashion--weighted down with bundles and bags and strange contraptions like some pack animal.  I bought a cone of sport weight yarn for a reasonable $10.00, a skein of silk sari yarn, a couple of bars of aromatic soap from the owner of Appalachian Naturals--he's the individual who recommended the Wicked Weed restaurant--and also purchased a pair of factory-made alpaca socks to give as a Christmas present and thought I'd escaped rather economically.  But on the way out of the smaller building of vendor stalls, a bag of orange-rust wool batting caught my eye, and I couldn't resist.  I started to spin it up that same night after I'd arrived home.  

Every time I attend SAFF I come home with a bag of fluff from
Zeilinger Wool Company.  

Pretty fiber makes pretty yarn.  

This cone contains over 1,000 yards.  

This soap would make a great present for someone, but I couldn't resist temptation.  I've already opened one bar to use myself.  Click here to go to the company's website.

Walter Turpening crafts custom-made benches and chairs for weavers, spinners,
and knitters.  Using detailed measurements of the individual, each piece is made to fit.
Someday I will purchase one of his armless rockers, made especially for knitters. 

Aside from a few moments fraught with indecision where I struggled with whether or not it was prudent to purchase an English angora rabbit or if the winsome brown lamb for sale would ride comfortably to Indian Trail in a Jetta and whether or not my sister- and brother-in-law (who have lots of acreage) would appreciate this Christmas present, the day was stress free.  Exploring SAFF, eating at the Wicked Weed, and savoring an Apple Cider Chai tea from a quirky business operated out of a double-decker bus before heading home made for a change of place and pace for two tired teachers. 

Here I am at Double D's Coffee and Desserts, waiting for my spicy cider.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sick Days and Sweaters

I've made great progress on my Mystery Sweater.  

Recent days have been trying, to say the least.  Although they did provide time for some knitting:

Last Friday
End-of-week woes.  Come home from work even more wiped out than usual. (I typically spend Friday in way that confirms my sixteen-year-old son's assertion that his parents "have no life"--as I end my week's labors glued to the couch in the den, where I knit away.)   However, that night I find myself asleep in bed by 8:00.  

Brief respite.  I know I should stay in as I still feel "puny" (an old-timey and probably southern adjective), but think it wise to attempt to stave off impending illness by driving 16 miles to Whole Foods to stock up on immune-boosting supplements and super foods.  Oddly enough, after eating quiche and gelato, I feel revived. Alas, Saturday afternoon and evening, the Whole-Foods Effect is wearing worn off, and I spend the day listlessly knitting and then finishing up Helen Fielding's new novel: Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy.  Read with joyful abandon, as I've waited fourteen years for a new Bridget story!  The sad fact that I see myself in Bridget Jones and in Marianne Dashwood (found in Austen's Sense and Sensibility) must say something frightening about my emotional maturity and sense of self-discipline.

Sore muscles.  Draining fatigue.  Dilemma.  I know that Amy Gunderson, a designer from Universal Yarn will be at Cottage Yarn that afternoon for a book signing.  I am currently taking part in her Mystery Sweater knit-along.  Have brainstorm:  I have to show her my sweater in progress! Another siren luring me is the fact that the new Jane Austen Knits is now on store shelves.  I decide to take a long hot bath and some Ibuprofen and go. Make it a point not to get too close to anyone  and only stay for a bit. Leave happy as a result of having a chance to talk with Amy  and to meet sales director Yonca Ozbelli, Return home tired, but satisfied, as I now have a signed copy of 50 Knitted Gifts for Year-Round Giving (a volume which features a wide array of clever and attractive knitted items appropriate for four seasons and major holidays, all made using Universal Deluxe Worsted), one of the two remaining copies of Jane Austen Knits in the store, and some bright orange yarn to make some great Spiderweb Boot Toppers in the book.  (Hmmm. Can I can get these done by Halloween, along with 30-day sweater?)  

Yonca and Amy both brought their own Mystery Sweaters in progress.  Amy is holding hers.  

I love the color choices for this Midnight Kiss Capelet.  

Patterns for this wine cozy and cupcakes are in the book.  

Splitting headache.  Sore throat.  Painful earache.  Stay home joined by sick younger son.  Spend part of day on couch, knitting sweater and watching Nickelodeon movie, entitled Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging.  Might be childish fodder but can justify my choice as its director, Gurinder Chadha, also directed personal favorites Bend it like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. (Maybe not modern classics, but witty and entertaining!)   Viewing film about teenage angst inspires me to attempt to grade some student essays, written by my juniors whom I asked to write about a person who is memorable to them or who influenced them in some way.  Am now not only shaking with the onset of a fever but also am choking up after reading about grandmothers and mothers who are always positive in the face of eviction, deportation, hours spent working four jobs, and bouts with brain tumors.  Am surprised that evoking tears of thankful joy in one's offspring--or grand-offspring--appears to be a common phenomenon.  Reading spurs me to guiltily contemplate my peevish wallowing and rantings, including, but not limited to "I'm sick!" and "Can't you see I don't feel well.  Do it yourself!" or "You wanted that dog!  Walk her or we can get rid of her!"  Doubt my children will write effusive sentimental essays about self, but maybe they'll remember all the pancakes and homemade cookies I've made for them.  And perhaps someday they will desire and appreciate hand-knitted presents.

Still puny.  Still drained.  Make homemade lentil soup and spend six hours on couch watching melodramatic TV mini-series, The Starter Wife, on iPad.  Also read a bit of A Tale of Two Cities, so am not complete cultural idiot.  Read more characterization essays and am happy to finish, as tears are not helping sinus congestion.  Am working like gangbusters in-between on Mystery Sweater, though.

Change of plans.  Not back at work as anticipated.  Now now have wraparound headache in addition to a cough and earache.  Son is still home, too.  My husband takes him to the doctor.  I make a doctor's appointment and, when I call, am informed, "When you arrive take a mask from the basket near the door and wear it into the waiting room."  When I get there, do as instructed.  Am impressed by witty and wise, Jackie, who attends me and prescribes a "Z-pack" for a respiratory infection. Jackie has the prescription automatically sent to Costco, so have to pick it up there.  Despite splitting headache, for a moment, am tempted to stop at Cottage Yarn.  It's located on the same highway.  It's only a five minutes' drive.  I could wear the mask, so I won't infect anyone.  I feel awful, but yarn shop stops always contribute to improved well-being.  Ultimately decide that I might be mistaken for an armed robber and things would be better off all around for my health and safety for me to return home, get into my pajamas, and try to recover.   Besides I have to finish my sweater and then cast on those orange-and-black boot toppers.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fetching a Coal

This feather and fan baby cardigan is a free pattern offered by Lion Yarn.  Find it on

My husband and I frequently lament the quick death of traditional language. With the onslaught of pervasive modern media and the phenomenon of nomadic American families, it isn't really surpassing, though, that high school students look befuddled when a teacher says, "A stitch in time saves nine," or uses irregular verbs such as "striven" that "don't sound right" to students. This past Sunday my husband, who is an unfailingly dutiful son, made the trek to the country to visit his 88-year-old mother, even though he was plagued by an upset stomach.  When he got up to leave, after an uncharacteristically short visit, his mother said, "You've just come to fetch a coal." This is an old-timey expression that derives from times when a neighbor stopped by to borrow a hot coal to light a fire and couldn't dilly-dally (love this old expression, too) for fear of the coal burning out.   When my husband returned home, he discussed his mother's words with me, and I immediately thought of my own recent visit to The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) conference in Concord, NC last weekend, one which was slightly more extended than a trip to fetch a coal but still not nearly long enough.

As I've reiterated many times in my recent blog posts, since the beginning of the school I have been overwhelmed by the sense of too much to do and not enough time. While I enjoyed a recent knitting retreat in the mountains a little over a week ago, I returned home to piles of student papers to grade and a three-day commitment to attend an educational workshop in Charlotte. I have to say that after three days of listening to educational philosophy sold in a tidy package, I was a bit exhausted--so much so that I nearly forgot about the TKGA conference.  When I remembered the event on Saturday morning, the fact that I hadn't signed up for any classes and that my energy was flagging wasn't an encouragement to attend, either.    

But, die hard knitter that I am, I hopped on the highway, and I have to say that when I'd spent a little time perusing the booths and seeing the offerings of classes and events, I wished I'd planned a little better and decided to make a weekend of it.  Of course, one reason I didn't do just that is that I'm hoping to save enough money to attend Vogue Knitting Live in New York this coming January, but we'll see. . . .

Even though my trip reflected a lack of foresight, I did gain much from my sojourn to the conference. Going to this event allowed me to

-learn about a new amazingly soft and beautiful yarn named Millamia that was developed by two Swedish sisters and to find out about a yarn shop, Bella Filati,  where it is sold.  This shop is located in Southern Pines, the town where my niece and her family just moved.  Hmmm, maybe it's time for a visit to see her new house;

-buy some very reasonable but wonderfully soft cotton and bamboo Lion yarn and to discover a free pattern to make using it (the feather and fan cardigan is shown above and is available on the Lion website);

-discover the wonders of knitting mini-beaded purses inspired by vintage designs, thereby affirming my suspicion that I am a masochist--as I had to buy a kit to create a small beaded bag to wear around my neck, a kit which includes mind-bogglingly Lilliputian sized needles;

-speak with Charles Gandy, a TKGA designer who gave me lots of helpful information about that organization's Master Knitter program--definitely on my to-do list for next year;

-run into a personable young knitwear designer from Universal Yarn who inspired me to continue my design aspirations; 

-discover that at these TKGA events budding designers can present their ideas to leaders in the knitting industry--on the to-do list for next year, too;

-reaffirm my belief that my love of all things fiber contributes so much to my inner peace as well as to my coping skills and that this love/obsession may lead me in new directions--if I'm diligent.

-decide that visits to knitting conferences/festivals/conventions/etc. should be affairs where one lingers, locales where any carried coals would ultimately extinguish themselves before making it home.  

Designer Charles Gandy offered some insight into the
benefits of becoming a TKGA certified master knitter.  

I need to make a pilgrimage to this yarn shop located in Southern
Pines, North Carolina to buy some Millamia yarn.  

Nancy Alison creates detailed knitted and crocheted purses
inspired by vintage designs.

When I returned home I did a little online searching and found a 30-day
mystery sweater knitalong created by designers at Universal Yarns.  I
made a special Sunday afternoon trip to Cottage Yarn to buy some
Universal Deluxe Worsted to get started.