Watercolor Days

A couple of weeks ago I had trouble breathing, called my doctor’s office, and the nurse there called 911 for me. Wow. What an experience that was. Okay, it was a little surreal to be frank. One of the things that happened was the paramedic, after he had placed a needle in my arm vein, attached me to heart monitors and then placed me on oxygen, told me how much he liked my watercolor paintings of cats. What? This is really happening? Panting for air, I struggled for a moment to think of what he was talking about.

Cat Quilts
Oh. These cat pictures.

Those aren’t really watercolor paintings, but they sure do look like it, I suppose. They are actually art quilts made with handpainted fabrics that give them their “watercolor” look.

Siamese Cat quilt.
Here’s a close-up of one of the quilts. You can see that the picture is made by fusing down lots of painted and stenciled fabric pieces that were then sewn and quilted. 

The patterns for the quilts came from McKenna Ryan and I bought them at a local quilt store years ago. Over months I slowly assembled the fabric stash to get the colors that I wanted, and then I created the quilts in my own colors to make them show cats that I have known and loved over my life. These three cats are Morgan (the yellow sunflower cat), Zach (the tuxedo cat) and Teak (my beloved Siamese cat).  I love these quilts, especially because of the quality of the dyes on the fabric and the way the colors work together.

So, do you think that I am a sucker for handpainted yarn? Oh, my lord, that would be a huge YES!

The week after the exciting and exhausting ambulance ride my BKB (best knitting bud) Deb and I went up to the Interweave Yarn Fest to do some quality shopping.

Yarn booth.
The first booth in the door was this one by Western Sky Knits. Look at those yarns!! Look at those handpainted yarns in amazing colors! Look! Look!

Don’t those yarns look a lot like the colors that are in the quilts?

Yarns
Take a closer look. See what I’m talking about?

I saw these yarns and I was gone. I didn’t even do my usual pass through the entire yarn show before buying anything. I just started piling up the yarn that I wanted and that was that. I bought 11 skeins of fabulous, water-colorish yarns and wanted more. Let me show you what I got.

Yarn
I am a complete sucker for a good gold yarn. That was the first skein to jump into my arms. I love this gold. I bought two speckles to go with the first gold skein, and then had to get another skein of gold just in case. You know. Who can tell what I’ll need in the future? The stash cries for gold yarn. I’m on the hunt for the right shawl pattern now, but I’m also dreaming of socks and arm warmers.
Yarn
Then there was this. I needed these colors in my stash.  These yarns are the missing pieces that I needed to make some shawls that I’ve been organizing from the stash. Just like I did with the quilts, I have been assembling colors for projects that I dream of from a number of sources and putting them into my stash. These yarns, and these colors, filled the final gaps and made my vision come together.

Here’s the thing. Looking at these yarns, I realized that they are the colors of the quilts. Watercolors. Colors that make me smile inside. The colors of sunshine, flowers in the garden, cats, and summer days. I look at these yarns, I imagine the projects that they will make shine, and I begin plotting the knitting. And the flowers that I will plant in the garden next month. And the people that I will gift the knitting to. Some projects that will last as long and give me (and hopefully others) as much joy as the watercolor quilts that I have on the wall.

Watercolor days.

May you all have many of the same.

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Ready for the Magic!

I really don’t like to do this, but the first step in recovery is to admit that you have a problem. That assumes, of course, that you are interested in actually recovering from your addiction…

Yarn
I keep buying these gray-toned yarns with flecks of pink and purple in them… I think that I have actually bought five different 2-skein sets of this type of yarn with the idea of making another “Waiting for Rain” shawl.  Maybe, I told myself, it can become ANOTHER Find Your Fade. I’m in my 60’s now, and my hair is starting to go gray…  I’m wearing more black and this yarn will go with my entire wardrobe. Do I need any more excuses? No, not really. This yarn had me at “hello!”

Nope. Not recovering today. There is no problem here. I love yarn, I love to knit, it makes me happy, and there are few things that make you decide to do what makes you feel happy like getting diagnosed with a possibly-fatal autoimmune condition. Oh. For one thing, you notice that the condition of life itself is eventually fatal… whatever have I been waiting for?  Buy yarn. Time to knit!

Still there is the issue of what to do with all of this awesome yarn?

34742949562_b375dd92e1_n

This is the Marled Magic Sweater by Stephen West (photo credit: westknits). Hey, wouldn’t this be the perfect solution to consume that yarn and make something that will carry me through the cold of winter wrapped in absolute cushy yumminess?  Yes, yes it will!! I downloaded the pattern that week and read the directions. Oops. This is going to be challenging and it is going to take a lot of yarn. Stephen suggests that you stock up/locate about 1500 grams of the stuff to make your yarn palette. Good think I have a stash that reflects my true yarn-addiction status.

Pile of yarN.
I pulled out every yarn that I thought I could use and piled it all in a couple of large bins. After that I sorted the yarn into color grouping and sadly make some cuts. Then I made some more cuts. This is what I was left with…
Lace weight yarns.
The marl in the fabric is created by knitting with two strands of yarn held together. I pulled out lace weight yarns in the colorways that I was looking for. This is mostly mohair, silk, and alpaca yarn. I have a lot of the steel gray mohair at the lower right hand corner, and will use the other colors to spice things up.
Yarn collage.
Then I pulled out these fingering weight yarns to accent the gray mix yarns that I started out with: blues, purples and rose/pinks. I have some golds and teals that I put back into the stash, but they may sneak back into the working yarn palette later. I put in the gray Brooklyn Tweed Loft too as Stephen suggested that it be included if possible to help cut the weight and to prevent stretching.

Pretty intimidating, but I am getting ready to so some serious yarn winding and should get the project page on Ravelry started soon. Wow. This is a lot of yarn to enter, and then there will be the notes…

Good thing I am a true addict!!

PS: my rheumatologist told me that I should knit as much as I can to help keep functionality in my hands. Never did medical advice fall on such fertile soil… not that I needed another excuse. 🙂

MacKenzie Speaks: The Mother of Cats Came Home!

Hi. I’m MacKenzie.

Cat
Cat neglect is an ugly thing. Look at how weak I appear…

I have had the worst week ever. I was abandoned alone in the house ALL WEEK with only Yellow Boy for company. Yellow Boy is boring; he doesn’t really count as company. His idea of a good time is digging tunnels in the laundry basket and sleeping on the shoes in the closet. <sigh>

So, alone. Inside. Stale food and old boring toys. Without even the minimum level of stimulation that a cat of my intellect requires… The worst part of being abandoned… no COOKIES!!!

That darn squirrel in the back yard has been laughing at me through the window for days.

stuff
Finally, late last night, she returned. I helped myself to cookies while she unpacked the car.

That’s right, the Mother of Cats has returned home. We slept on top of her all night so she couldn’t get away again. She brought us new toys, groomed our fur until it was glossy, and let us out to play in the yard again this morning. That squirrel and I had a little chat; he won’t be teasing me through the window for awhile!

Cat
Yellow Boy was so glad to get back outside. Hmm… I wonder why he felt an urgent need to sharpen his claws? I only chased him a little bit while we were left alone. Hey, I was bored!!

Today she did the laundry, took a nap, caught up on mail and let me help her knit in the afternoon. Look what she found on the doorstep this morning when she got the mail!

Yarn and Candy
Someone sent her a package of yarn and candy!

She really got a little teary when she found the package. The Mother of Cats can get a little emotional sometimes. Me, I was fighting back tears myself when I saw there wasn’t a catnip mouse for me in the package… Humans! Maybe she’ll let me play with the yarn. It really is a lovely color and will go so nicely with my fur.

How good it is to have things return to normal again.

I’m such a good boy.

Can I have some cookies now?

>^..^<

Notes from the Mother of Cats:

My family has transitioned from acute health emergencies to a routine of long term cancer treatment for my older son, and chronic condition management for everyone else. There is still a long road ahead of us, but we are dealing.

The wonderful package of yarn and candy came from fellow blogger Sharon of Creativity and Family. The yarn is Sharon’s own hand dyed yarn (Inspirational Yarns) and is so wonderful that I really did get tears in my eyes. Thank you so much, Sharon. What a burst of sunshine in what has been a very dark time. If you would like a burst of sunshine for yourself you can find Sharon’s fabulous yarn in her shop on Etsy.

No, I did not let MacKenzie eat all of those kitty cookies!!

MacKenzie Speaks: The Mother of Cats Grows Old

This week there was a flurry of activity. The Mother of Cats seemed busier than usual, and we certainly got neglected. There was a lot of commotion and she seemed to leave us alone a lot of the time. She went to the dentist (great checkup, whatever that means), out to lunch with friends, and out to dinner with her son. Did she bring us anything? No!

MacKenzie
She put us out in the yard while they took away the oxygen machine. Can you believe it? She has gotten so frisky that the doctor decided that she doesn’t need her oxygen any more. Yellow Boy and I are having trouble sleeping now that it is gone. I’m not sure she really is focused on our needs the way she needs to.

She was so excited about the oxygen leaving that she bought a cake with the inscription “Goodbye Oxygen” on it and took it to her knitting group to share. They must have known that the cake was coming because they had a card waiting to give her…

Card
Why are there no cats on this card?  Wait, what type of card is this?  Can this be a… Birthday Card?
Flowers
Oh. That explains why these flowers arrived from her sister. I thought that they were for me…
Yarn
Now that I think of it, she did say that this was her birthday yarn…
Books and Yarn
and her daughter-in-law bought her more birthday yarn. Look! It even matches the books that arrived at the library for her on her “special day”.

All this yarn, books and flowers are just crazy. She doesn’t need all of this special stuff. We don’t care that she is now an official senior citizen.

Mac and Me
We just care that she loves us.

Happy “You Got Old” Day, Mother of Cats. May you have many more.

Can I have a cookie now?

 

Putting On The Dog

This is Jake.

Dog
Isn’t this the sweetest face you ever saw?

Jake was the much loved pet of my knitting friend Deb, and he passed over the rainbow bridge some time back, but due to the foresight of Deb a fairly large bag of his leavings remain. Deb saved the handfuls of fur that she brushed out when he was shedding, and a few weeks ago she passed the bag of doggie down to me to see if I could spin it.

Here’s the problem with dog fur. There are actually two types of hair in that coat: the guard hairs are the beautiful shiny coat that we see, and underneath there is a layer of fluffy undercoat; short, not so shiny, and very warm. While the soft and glossy guard hairs seem like they would spin up into yarn, they are actually too slick and stiff to behave themselves in yarn. They spring right out of the plies and poke like crazy. Bad dog!!

The saved fur that Deb gave me contained a lot of the undercoat layer, but the strands were really kind of short. I decided that the best thing to do would be to pull out as much of the locks of guard hair as I could (sorry Jake!) and then blend the remaining hair/down mixture with another longer fiber like wool or alpaca. Deb liked the look of Jake mixed with alpaca, so that’s what we did.

Alpaca
I had a buff colored alpaca fleece in my stash, so I opened up the locks and ran it through my drum carder to make batts. I split each batt, weighed the amount of fiber and put it into a labeled storage container.
Dog fur
I then cleaned up and made matching containers of dog down (with some guard hairs) that would allow me to create 50/50 blended batts on my drum carder with the alpaca and the dog. Good plan, right?
Loading dog down onto drum carder
To do the blending I took a matched set of alpaca and dog containers to the drug carder to make a new 50/50 batt. The alpaca loaded right onto the drum of the carder with few problems. Jake, however, was too short to feed in so I manually loaded him onto the large drum just like I would if I was working with a blending board. I alternated the alpaca and dog to create layers of each in the batt.
Cat meets dog
MacKenzie was pretty interested in the dog down!
Finished batt
Here’s the final carded product of alpaca/dog blend. The sprig on the batt is cat mint because, well, doesn’t it seem appropriate?

The carding has been going slowly because it has been raining off and on for several days, and if it isn’t warm enough my hands get all cranky. I wanted to work outside as there was waste dropping out of the fibers as I worked; best to keep all that out of the house! I finally got several batts finished late last week and the spinning began.

Drafting
Because the alpaca has longer fiber than the dog down it is really helping me with the spinning. There’s dog down in that drafting triangle but it’s behaving itself very nicely. I am spinning the singles pretty fine (for me); the finished two ply yarn will be between fingering and sport weight.
Singles
Here’s the first yarn on the bobbin. You can just seen the cinnamon colored dog escaping the twisted ply. This yarn will have a halo for sure, but I’m hoping that it won’t shed too badly.

I took the bobbin of yarn to knitting this week to show to Deb, and we pulled off enough to make her a sample of two ply yarn that is about 10 meters long so she can see how it knits. She’s looking at shawl patterns while I continue to spin Jake’s fur into yarn. It’s kind of exciting. We are debating what to call the yarn.

Alpaca-Arf? DoggiePac?

I think that Deb is settling into calling it PuppyPaca.

Beautiful Jake. Forever in Deb’s heart, and soon to be a fabulous shawl.

 

Wednesday Update: lots of work, very few words

I would love to do a Wordless Wednesday. It would be so cool. I think that I should set a goal for myself to work up to it slowly and to capture the best picture that displays the struggles/successes of the week. Since I didn’t do that here is an almost wordless Wednesday update of my current projects.

Socks
Om Shanti Bed Socks socks by Alice Yu. Here are the Ravelry project details.
Roving
Strips pulled from the long edge of the giant batt and rolled up ready to spin. The spinning wheel rattled his double treadles in excitement the whole time I was doing this…
Singles on bobbin
Singles spun using a supported long draw that will eventually make a fluffy 2 ply worsted weight yarn. Happy spinning wheel.
Cat on spinning chair
You wanted to spin? Whatever…

It’s raining outside and will change to snow overnight. I have the flowering plants that I want to keep inside and I am ready to ply this yarn tomorrow. Sure wish my bed socks were done. Have a great rest-of-the-week everyone.

Alpaca Summer Camp

Last week was a ton of fun! I helped out at a Camp Macusani, a summer camp run by Alta Vida Alpacas, which is also the site of Alpaca Partners, an organization “committed to creating quality with purpose in the lives of special needs persons through unique opportunities offered on the ranch.” Wow! Teaching, fiber arts, alpacas and a chance to be involved in something special that is making a difference in the lives of young people facing more challenges than most of us. Not only was this a lot of fun, but it was a special, special week.

So with no further ado, here is the week. 🙂

Alpacas
This camp started just as you would have thought: the kids went up the hill to meet the alpacas!! That cute rear end you see in the manger is one of the sheep.
Baby alpaca.
Of course there were babies…
Guard dog.
and dogs. At Alta Vida the owners (Dan and Cari Corley) have guard dogs and llamas in the pens with their alpacas to help keep them safe. Most of the alpacas in these pictures are huacaya, although with their coats clipped off it’s hard for me to be sure. The ranch also has suri alpacas.
Washed alpaca fiber
The actual fiber day started with the kids getting their own bag of alpaca fleece (huacaya and suri) to pick vegetable matter out of and to wash. Here is the washed fiber drying.
Flower hunters in a meadow.
While the fiber was drying we all headed out into the meadows on the property to hunt for Colorado wildflowers.
Wildflowers
and then the flowers were pressed to dry in phone books (with bricks on top to provide the weight!)
Combing alpaca fiber.
The next day the kids learned how to comb their alpaca fiber…
Solar dyeing.
and then they dyed some of the fiber using kool-aid and the heat of the sun. It was a beautiful hot day and the wool dyed great just using solar energy. The individual colors are contained in zip-lock bags, and then the bags were placed in aluminum cake pans with plastic snap-on lids. Slick, huh!
Making felt.
The white and dyed fiber was used to create felt art projects and also was blended to create rolags. Fun, fun, fun!
Felting is hard!
The downside: felting can be hard work. 🙂
Spinning yarn.
At the end of the camp students learned to make yarn. To break the process down to manageable “chunks” we had kids work with partners so that they could just control the spinning at the beginning, and then later they took over the drafting part of the process. Some were able to create yarn on their own using the drop spindle by the end of the second day.

Remember those pressed flowers? On the last day the dried flowers were used along with pictures taken during the camp to create photo memory books that the students took away with them. They also framed and made pictures using the felt that was created, and their yarn was steamed (to set the twist), wound and made into a little skein. Camp was only about 2.5 hours a day, but a lot was accomplished!

That’s why this was such a special week. By the family pizza lunch on the final day the kids had learned how fiber from live animals (that they learn how to take care of during the school year) is used to create items of beauty and purpose. Someday some of these kids will be creating items for sale in a farm store that will be operated by Alpaca Partners, and some of them may end up working with livestock later on in their lives. Things learned in this camp will be used in the two local high schools that currently collaborate with Alta Vida Alpacas to provide a unique educational opportunity for special needs kids; weaving and knitting with that yarn is a future possibility. If ever I spent a week well, this was it.

Oh yeah. I was also with my peeps!