Got a Hansen electric miniSpinner for my birthday! Now I can do two of my favorite things at the same time:
Hope you are having nice summer!
I come from a family that has been rooted in the American West Coast for generations; any traveling we did was north and south, but we never went east of the Cascade/Sierra ranges. When I got older I had a chance to visit Vermont and Washington DC on work trips, but until I became a knitter I'd never visited the Midwest.
Now, with 16 knitting camps under my belt, the feel of humidity when I step out of the airport signals vacation time! I still remember my first experience of driving through Wisconsin on a sunny summer day. I said to myself, "How come EVERYONE doesn't know about how beautiful this place is?"
Meg Swansen's Knitting Camp is a tradition at this point (that's Meg, above). I've grown to love the people there, those I see only once a year and those I am in regular contact with.
I met this crew the second year of camp--here we are, ready for lunch at the Kitchen Table Restaurant. Their friendship and ongoing support has meant the world to me.
I always learn something, too: this year's major revelation was Susan Rainey's presentation on Invisible Stranding. Susan scouted out and described for hand knitters a machine knitting technique that allows yarn to be carried for long distances without any color peek through! She has gathered all this information into a Ravelry pattern called It's Not About The Hat that goes through the steps to set up, knit, and end the invisible stranded areas as needed (10 youtube videos are included in the pattern). If you are a stranded knitter who wants to knit large, isolated motifs, the cost would be worth triple the $6 she's asking!
After camp was over I drove to Washington Island, 23 square miles set in Lake Michigan off the tip of Door County (the thumb to Wisconsin's mitten).
Revelation! I've been an urbanite all my life, so spending 5 nights in a place where people don't lock their doors? Leave their windows open at night? Don't automatically lock their car doors when they take in a load of groceries? A relaxing haven.
Plus: really good restaurants.
And so very green and blue in high summer. Summers in the west are marked by brown (don't get me wrong--there's plenty of green, but it's a little dusty and stressed). My friend Holly designed a Fair Isle sweater she calls Driving to Camp based on the blues, greens, and roadway gray:
She says it reminds her of Wisconsin when winter turns cold and dark. I think she captured it!
I taught my Design Your Own Fair Isle class at Sievers School of Fiber Arts. This school, in its 37th year, lived up to its good reputation--I was really impressed with how the staff focuses on the experience their students are having. If I lived nearby I'd be taking classes all summer long--but it's a destination as well for people from further away (an easy 2.5 hour drive from Green Bay). (Note: If you decide to sign up for a class, don't hesitate: when registration opens at the start of February classes fill up just like that!)
My students were great! These are Mindy's swatches--everyone's work was so individual! I've got to say, teaching is one of my favorite things.
And now it's back to California: 3-minute showers, watering with a watering can so nothing goes to waste, water-saving appliances, low-flow toilets.... They say we might get a wet winter. I say: bring it on!
There's something about summer that makes me want to curl up and read for hours. Perhaps it's the deeply embedded memories of school reading lists...
I had a chance to see the JMW Turner exhibit at the deYoung Museum in San Franciso recently. Turner was an amazing colorist, wild and experimental. In the gift shop I found these two books. The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay is a readable and generously illustrated distillation of her book Color: The Natural History of the Palette (highly recommended). It's published by the Getty Museum and has the air of a book written for middle school students, but summer reading revels in such reading levels and the information will change the way you look at paintings. Mimi Robinson's Local Color is an exercise in learning to SEE. Although the book is aimed at watercolorists the lessons are perfect for those who want to design Fair Isle from visual inspirations.
Long-time Spin-Off subscribers might remember Sarah Swett's article on weaving on a box to create a tapestry bag. Sarah has turned that article into a charming little self-illustrated 'zine. Phinn the dog and Crow the squirrel lead the way.
My friend Anna Tambour has a new book out! The Finest Ass in the Universe. I've known Anna forever, and that's all I will say about that given that Jeffrey Ford, who wrote the introduction, muses on the mystery Anna surrounds herself with. Suffice it to say she writes ambitious, acrobatic, thought-provoking, comedic literature. If you are up for it, take a look at this newest collection of short pieces. The blurb on the back says it all: "Anna Tambour is a rogue punk-prophetess whose writings not only stray from the beaten path; some of them are so far out there that you can hear the distant drums of strange story-tribes being awakened by her prose." Hooray, Anna!
I just realized that The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks is perhaps the polar opposite type of book from that Anna writes. Anyone who spins or works with fiber would enjoy this book--and anyone at all would have their world view broadened by it. Rebanks is a very fine writer, pulling us into his world in the high hills in the north of England, grounding us and making us care about it. More than care about it, actually--making us see how it fits into the world at large in an important way, and therefore how all such endeavors fit into our world and need to be tended.
Of course, when I'm this immersed in books I don't want to spend lots of time in the kitchen. To the rescue: Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert! If you are tired of stewy crock pot meals, give this concept a try: place the protein and a bunch of vegetables on a sheet pan to cook together. Genius! The book includes some other stuff, but the full meals are where it shines in my kitchen. I've tried 6 recipes so far....
So, with a heavy suitcase filled with reading material, I'm off to Meg Swansen's Knitting Camp in central Wisconsin and then to Sievers School of Fiber Arts on Washington Island, also in Wisconsin, where I will get to guide 21 people to express themselves in Fair Isle knitting! I am totally amazed at the life I get to lead these days.... I hope that you, too, get to discover new people and new works that inspire you this summer. Later, gator!
I regularly send photos of Mason to Gingko. She inevitably replies: "Mason gets it!" because Mason is always sprawled over the sofa or a pillow or, in this case, a pile of knitted swatches. I was taking photographs for the book; when I turned around I saw that he had made a nest for himself.
Mason understands the secret of living a happy life.
Now that summer has started, think of Mason and take the time to relax.
Live snails at the Catania market
The World War II museum in Catania, focussed on the Allied landings in Sicily, was fantastic--this Red Cross flag touched me with its humble cry for peace. The museum has very thoughtful exhibits: a reconstructed town square before and after bombing; a bomb shelter, replete with sounds and shakes; a machine-gun nest, with active "machine gunner"; and eerily perfect wax figures of the main figures of the war. It is interesting to see how an Axis power approached a WWII museum--the Hitler and Mussolini figures were placed at opposite ends of the room, as though they didn't know each other. The Allies worked with the Mafia for their successful invasion, re-energizing an organization that had been nearly wiped out.
120-year-old grapevine on the slopes of Mt Etna
Wine tasting and lunch at the Benanti Winery. The owner took us on a tour and explained how the ashen slopes of the very active Mt Etna have created the perfect environment for the grapevines.
Beautiful Taormina, so high on the slopes above the sea that we had to switch to taxicabs to get there! Mt Etna, in the distance, is spewing steam. Taormina is a lovely city, and quite a workout. (This was the a very brief break in the clouds!)
Wouldn't this make a nice color way?
This little dog just flopped down on the street and refused to move! Sicily, California--it's all the same.
Catch of the day being offered at Osteria Nero d'Avola, one of the best meals we had.
The church on the rock above Taormina.
The Greeks knew how to locate their theaters!
Looking down from Castelmola, a tiny town even further up the hill from Taormina.
A traditional breakfast in Milazzo. Our guide took us to meet his 83-year-old parents and have breakfast with them at their usual haunt. This is pistachio granita (a sort of slushy--also available in coffee, strawberry, and lemon) topped with heavily whipped cream--you break off bits of brioche and dip them into the granita.
Milazzo is not a tourist town--here is a picture (taken from the bus) of a small fish stand set up by a fisherman. When the small catch has been sold, it's gone!
Cefalu, a beach town on the north side of Sicily--John and our friend Susan standing in the street by our hotel.
Late afternoon light on the cathedral.
Another Cefalu street scene. Note the wet pavement: this is why you aren't getting photos of the beaches!
Back in Palermo, enjoying street food at an outdoor cafe. John is having the traditional chickpea fritters on a bun--panelle--a bit like falafel without the seasoning. Very well-dressed people and scruffy students alike were enjoying this meal.
In Sicily we enjoyed very high-end food and street food!
Evening view from the terrace of our hotel.
Very early morning espresso at the airport as we begin the trip home.... Note the blank stare!
Sicily was a wonder! I can recommend the Rick Steves tour highly--we saw things that we could not have managed on our own (the museum in Catania, for example, was closed to the public that day) and learned so much about Sicilian life from our guide Tommaso. In my first post of this series I opined that life in Sicily happens behind walls--having someone to open those walls is very important!
Of course you are!
So, we joined up with our Rick Steves tour in Palermo and set of on a counter-clockwise trip around the island. Roughly half our time was spent in organized tours of sites with very knowledgeable guides and half exploring on our own; we ate some meals together, too.
First, Erice, a lovely hill town. We went to Maria Grammatico's cooking school, where she taught us how to make three versions of the traditional Sicilian almond cookies.
And then we had a lovely buffet dinner, heavy on the fantastic vegetable dishes. I've got to tell you: we had some really good group dinners! They made sure that I had gluten-free options at every one.
The salt flats near Trapani, close to Erice, were fascinating; still a largely hand crafted product, salt has been harvested here for hundreds of years.
The Valley of the Temples was fascinating! You walk along a ridge (not a valley, actually) for about two miles, visiting ancient Greek temple after temple...
Breakfast jams at the rustic hotel near the temples. Sicilian breakfasts are generally quite sweet. It took some time for us to adjust to Sicilian eating patterns. Breakfast is a cup of espresso or cappucino accompanied by a brioche roll; lunch, at about 1:00, is part of a lengthy family break in the middle of the day--many businesses are closed from 1 to 4 to accommodate this important part of the day; and dinner doesn't start until 9:00!
Agrigento Piazza Armerina--this is probably what you think of when you think of Sicily, right?
We stopped at the agriturismo of Contessa Giovanna Modica Notarbartolo di Salandra (I just had to throw that in there!!!!) near Catania for a lengthy Sicilian lunch.
Lemon Pasta (a special gluten-free serving). Click on the link for a recipe posted on our guide Tommaso's web page.
On to Syracuse: Ortygia beach
Cannoli shop--cannoli should be filled when you order them, not before!
The start of the passeggiatta--well-dressed people walking along the central square and major streets (although major, they are very small streets). More and more people of all ages appeared as the evening descended; entire families were out at 11:00.
Lunch on the central square.
Ortygia street in the quiet morning. Ortygia was one of our favorite places!
There, I'm zooming along--but I know how quickly one can be bored by vacation photos! But we're not done yet.....
My dears! I cannot tell you what a beautiful, surprising, and stimulating place Sicily is! I didn't have many expectations when we set out, which is perhaps the best way to approach any travel. Images from The Godfather and Ellis Island crowded my brain, but modern Sicily is nothing like that--a productive autonomous region,* it proudly retains its separate identity. Sicily is an island of exceptional diversity: cities, small farms, major volcano, vineyards, petrochemical plants... Its own language even. Above all, it is a country with layers and layers of history and different cultures: Spaniards, Normans, Arabs, Greeks, Romans. And the food!
To start: Palermo.
The weather was generally wet while we were there, which goes to show that no amount of research into weather patterns is infallible. But it did not interfere with our enjoyment of the baroque architecture.
On the surface, the central historical district appears shabby and gritty, but Sicilian life is held inside the walls. We met the Countess Federico and toured her palazzo--unassuming and shabby from the outside, and charming on the inside. This is the central interior courtyard.
Churches at every turn, and little niches for saints charmed in out of the way spots.
Palermo traffic,well, let's just say that you won't want to rent a car there! Enjoy the little alleyways on foot.
And as you walk you will be tempted by pastry shops!
Three major outdoor daily markets can fill every need....
Long Sicilian zucchini (cucuzza squash).
Lunch: a plate of fava beans, green beans, and caponata at an outdoor table at Bar Ruvolo.
The breathtaking Cappella Palatina.
Restoration work in the cloisters at Monreale.
An alleyway with bike shop after bike shop....
We stayed at the Ambasciatori Hotel, which I can recommend highly. We were able to walk to all the sights we wanted to see. Palermo is always called "gritty." But we walked everywhere at all times of day and night and we never felt worried about our safety. Not pictured: our night at the opera! Verdi's Masked Ball performed at the Teatro Massimo. The Capuchin Cattacombs (creepy....). More lovely churches and decaying palazzos. The remarkable interior of the mosaic-clad Cathedral Monreale. Gelateria galore. Classic meal at the Focacceria Antika San Francesco (recommended by some Italians in front of us in line at the Capella Palatina--it pays to start conversations)--marinated baked cheese!
For the next few days you'll be treated to a series of photos as we make our way counter-clockwise around the island.
*From Wikipedia: Article 116 of the Italian Constitution grants to five regions (namely Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Aosta Valley and Friuli-Venezia Giulia) home rule, acknowledging their powers in relation to legislation, administration and finance. In return they have to finance the health-care system, the school system and most public infrastructures by themselves. These regions became autonomous in order to take into account cultural differences and protect linguistic minorities. Moreover the government wanted to prevent their secession from Italy after the Second World War.
Well, in two days I'll be heading off on our Sicily adventure! We are taking another Rick Steves tour--as you can see, we will be covering a lot of ground. John's been studying Italian for the last year and a half, so he'll have a chance to use his language skills; I'll be on the lookout for colors and patterns, of course. We'll both be enjoying the food!
When I announced this trip in my newsletter last month (sign up for the newsletter at Feral Knitter) I was pleased to hear that a number of my readers have family ties to this intriguing land. I'll be sharing pictures sporadically over the next two weeks, then I'll fill you in on the details when I get home.
And don't worry: Housesitters will be moving in to take care of Mason.
The most difficult part of planning for this trip? Figuring out what knitting to take with me, of course. I'm spending way too much time on Ravelry trying to find something that A. is lightweight, B. is a single ball of yarn, C. doesn't require a pattern, and D. that I have the appropriate yarn in my stash already.
Needless to say, I'm finding this kind of hard!
So, enough about me. Let me tell you about some design tools I have found recently that make plotting your garments easier. One (odd) word: croquis. A word that autocorrect is suspicious of. Here's what Wikipedia has to say: "In fashion, the term refers to a quick sketch of a figure (typically nine heads tall as this is the accepted proportions for fashion illustration) with a loose drawing of the clothes that are being designed."
For those of us who aren't excited about the idea of drawing a correctly proportioned human figure, there are simple tools: Fashionary (pictured above) croquis are available in several different formats. Can you see the dotted figure on the page? You sketch your clothing design over the barely visible figure and it won't distract from the garment details but it will guide your proportions. Fashionary is good for thinner figures--if you want croquis for larger sizes you can find them in the Cashmerette Curvy Sketchbook. The women behind the Cashmerette Curvy Sketchbook also offer customized croquis!
These simple and inexpensive tools can help you visualize the proportions of your garments. Get to work and show me your designs when I get home!
Gingko came down last weekend for a visit and we celebrated Mother's Day early. I don't need a special day to feel that John and Gingko love and appreciate me.
But I take advantage anyway! They took care of a few chores that I didn't want to do (take Mason for a nail trim, take books to sell at the bookstore), and we had a great breakfast at our favorite spot, 900 Grayson (love the Time Life Cookbook, and the Demon Lover is heaven for those who can eat gluten!). Then Ginkgo and I worked on the 1000 Colours jigsaw puzzle.
When Gingko was five we had the following conversation:
Mommy, if we died at the same time I'd be happy.
Because then I would have known you my entire life.
When she was four:
Daddy, are you a doctor?
Well, what is Mommy? A teenager?
Our conversations are different now!
Memory has its own story to tell. ~Tobias Wolf
There comes a point in the decluttering process when you have to deal with the hard stuff: the large boxes of family photos and letters.
I've skimmed off the low-hanging fruit--the odd Christmas cards from people I've never heard of, the duplicate photos.
And now I'm left with reading the letters, from the 1920s through the 1940s. The years of recovery from WWI, economic depression, and a new war. In the years before long-distance telephone use was common, my grandmother and great aunt and great uncles wrote to my great grandmother Agnes in La Conner, La Conner, Washington, a tiny town north of Seattle on the edge of Puget Sound.
A few weeks ago I wrote about not wanting to hang onto a "museum to grief." Yet these mementos seem to lead there--the process of looking backwards, knowing how things turned out, can overwhelm. As David Whyte wrote in Consolations: "There is almost no path a human being can follow that does not lead to heartbreak."
My great aunt Esther had begun writing the family story before Alzheimer's took over: five children of Swedish immigrants and how the American experience affected their lives. I think she, too, was overwhelmed by sadness as the story unfolded on her pages: tales of alcoholism, parental rage, early deaths, mysteries (great uncle George hospitalized for an unspeakable breakdown during the Boxer Rebellion in Beijing, for example). Hints of world affairs: great uncle Norman hired to protect the bridges near town after Pearl Harbor, the warden giving notice that some light was showing at the edge of the blackout curtains, racial tensions in the army base in Louisiana.
Here is my grandmother in 1924. A beautiful, talented young woman who died of alcoholism at age 74, bitter and alone.
Closing the flaps on the boxes does not quiet the voices, but I don't know what to do with them, either.
In the meantime, I thought you all would like this sweater: