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Archive for February, 2012

Fun with Soggy Wool

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Wool is my friend. I love knitting it, spinning with it, making handmade felt with it, wearing it, touching it, thinking about it. I talk to my knitting students about wool as though it were a person at times. It does have a personality, of sorts.

Wool loves water. It’s a miracle fiber without petroleum content – a natural miracle. If you get caught in the rain wearing a wool jacket or sweater, the fiber can absorb about 30% of its weight in water before it feels wet.

Not only that, wool is warm even when it is wet. This is why hunters have historically worn heavy wool socks. Even if the occasional puddle splashes or floods the socks,  warmth is still assured.

The Dreaded B Word

Many new knitters hear about “blocking” knitting by looking at photos of elegant and fancy lace shawls blocked out with a lot of pins, to a beautiful shape. This is in fact one excellent example of how much wool will benefit from water.

When one knits lace, it looks like a horrible crumpled mess when it comes off the needles. However, a nice soak in water with a little bit of detergent or wool wash in it, and a gentle roll in a towel prepares it for magic.

Amazing lace comes out of this damp experience… after being pinned carefully (with rust-free pins) and dried fully. Once the pins come out, the fabric is nothing like the crumple it started out as, and quite magical instead.

Just look at these first two photos. Heather knit this version of my Colorama Crescent Shawl in a single yarn… Spectre by my friend Rita of Yarn Hollow. In these photos the shawl drapes beautifully at the edge, in a way that knitting straight off the needles can’t do. It had to be blocked to become its fully-beautiful self.

Simple, Make-You-Look-Good Blocking

There is a lot of knitting, though, which is not lace. It does not need any pins at all. It just wants to even out its stitches a bit, to look more finished. Water can make that happen.

If you go to a textile museum and look at old knitting, it may appear that the knitter of old was able to make every stitch totally even. It appears that all the stitches would be flat and perfect.

In reality, that item has likely been washed dozens of times. Each wash allows the stitches to even themselves out more. Voila! Perfectly even stitches.

Going with What Is

Here is an example. I knit two versions of my Sprite Cowl for KnitCircus and sent them off for a photo shoot followed by a traveling trunk show. However, I wanted one for myself.

I found two similar purple yarns in my stash, one 50gm ball each, and knit for myself. I ran out of those yarns at the very end of the main knitting. I had none of the yarn left for the i-cord (knitted tube) edging.

Fortunately, neither of the yarns was a solid color. When you have flecks or subtle color changes in a yarn, you need not *match,* you need only find something that will *go* with it.

I found a lighter magenta yarn in silk/alpaca, which worked well with flecks in one of the two yarns. I made lengths of i-cord with the yarn alone, and then held along with a light purple mohair laceweight yarn. (See photo at right; the left side has i-cord with one strand, the left shows two strands.)

The two-stranded version looked tweedy like the fabric of the main piece. I made my edgings from that. I’m pleased with how that turned out.

Imperfect = Good Enough

Once I finished the edgings, I took a look at what I had. It was rather amusing. The dense gauge I’d knit (to keep out the wind on a winter walk) had a shape of its own.

Even though the yarns were soft on their own, the knitted structure I’d made was rather firm. Take a look.

It made an amusing hat on me, yes? I had fun with taking this photo. A chuckle is a good thing.

Wool Bath

I’m glad I knew the easy solution. I filled up a basin with warm water, added a little wool wash (a detergent which does not require rinsing out – it helps break the surface tension of the water), and let it soak a while.

Here my purple Sprite is in her inaugural bath:

Once she’d soaked long enough to be fully saturated, I pulled the plug and let the water drain out slowly. I pressed the piece gently (no wringing, to avoid shrinking) and then rolled it in an old, clean towel.

At this point I stretched the piece gently from top to bottom. I then stretched it from side to side. At that point I allowed it to relax mostly into the size of stitches it wanted to have.

It was clear that the points would need a little more encouragement. I tugged and pinched a bit on the i-cord edges top and bottom, to make the wet item look closer to my vision of a zigzag/chevron.

I made a choice to use just a few pins, to make more exaggerated points on the piece. However, hand-worked points would have still shown off the basic shape.

At that point, I let it dry. I used a sweater drying rack near our old heat vent.

The next morning, it was dry and ready to wear. The cool part? That blocking made the stitches settle in to a softer and drapeable fabric. See how the story ends?

I love this piece! I wear it a lot when I go on my evening walks.

Can you see how even those stitches appear? Trust me, I’m not a consistent knitter. Creative, yes. Quick, mostly. Consistent? Nope.

Yes, I meant it. Wool loves water!

Toss-it Tuesday!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

It’s Tuesday again, whether we are ready or not. I’m still tossing things out as much as I can while I proceed through each day.

However, on Tuesdays the focus is all about “Toss-it Tuesday.” Some of you have been traveling with me on this fascinating bumpy road.

This week I’ve been working on tax records. I’m tossing any paper that I can, while sorting through the papers I need to keep. There is a lot of tossing going on here.


Last week friend Brenda asked me to take some of her old costume pieces and give them to new dancers at my dance rehearsal. I did that, plus I took along a few things from my own costume stash. They were all happily snatched up and taken to new homes.

Current Plan

This week is less fun. Papers… old receipts I don’t need for IRS documentation. I’m on a roll. Hopefully the roll will continue easily.

Papers. They are the hardest thing for me to deal with. They are small enough to not look like I did much. Each one requires individual decision-making… slow going. However, dealing with them makes a strong impact on my life.

Come Along?

If you’d like to join us, come on over to the Facebook Group page for Toss-It Tuesdays. It’s a closed group which means I need to add you to the list. However, it’s small and friendly that way and it seems to be working. You’ll have to be on Facebook and friend me to join in there. Information is on the group page.

Please consider joining us… or just post a comment here on this blog post if you prefer!

Like the Oscars for Knitting!

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

I have an unusual job. I write instructions for other folks to make things. Most of the time I write knitting patterns. Sometimes I also write recipes, mostly for baking with food restrictions.

I’m of the opinion that patterns and recipes are nearly the same thing. The words are functionally equal. I’m an Explainer, above all.

Warmth and Color
A few years ago I wrote a pattern called the One-Day Neckwarmer. It took not much yarn, and not much time, to make a very functional and cheerful cowl-like warmer. In stripes of contrasting yarns, it has been made in subtle and feminine colors, contrasting school colors and fashion colors from sophisticated to energetic.

It’s a pleasant knit. Rita B. made at least 5 one year for holiday gifts, if I remember right. She didn’t get tired of them, as the colors changed and the projects ended before boredom could take over.

A Little Help from My Friends
There’s a website online called Patternfish where knitting and crocheting designers can sell their patterns as PDF electronic documents. They started online in 2008. I started selling my patterns through them in 2010.

Last week, Patternfish went back through all of their sales records since the beginning. They tallied total quantities sold and came up with bestsellers. There was one big seller above all, and then top honors for many different categories.

My friend and teacher Lucy Neatby snagged 11 spots in this tally, including the most-sold pattern of all, her “Sea Lettuce Scarf.” I was at a class she did in Lake Orion, Michigan when she came up with the name of that piece. I’m delighted for her success… as she’s a fine human as well as a brilliant designer/artist.

I’m extra-delighted to say that my One-Day Neckwarmer earned a spot on the top 10 Cowls/Wimples/Moebius category. See?

Thank you to every single person involved with this. Thanks to Patternfish for the acknowledgement. Thanks to them also, for advertising this item in Knitty which was a great boost to my sales. Thanks to every knitter who has knit the pattern. Thanks to those who helped me test knit the pattern so that it didn’t have any hiccups for the subsequent knitters of this piece.

What a lovely boost. Hugs to all.

Added 2/24/2012: Link to Patternfish February 2012 Newsletter with all the top-selling patterns listed.

Jen Sygit TONIGHT at Altu’s

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

Award-winning songstress, Jen Sygit, is singing at Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine in East Lansing tonight. This is a do not miss event. Please come, I’ll be there:

Jen is a dear friend, but I knew her music before I met her. Here are a few of my favorit Jen Sygit Lyrics:

“I come from a town where the stop signs are bored…”

“Landlocked and waiting for your ship to come in.”

She’s brilliant. You know you want to come. See you then.

Self-Nurturing Day

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Today is Valentine’s Day. It’s not an easy holiday for many. I encourage those I love… single or not, to use this holiday as a self-care, self-appreciating day.

Stand tall and be gentle with yourself. Have a special cup of tea, linger in a bubble bath rather than taking a quick shower, add vanilla or cinnamon to your oatmeal today. Little things add up!

That said, at this point in my life I have found myself in love with a very fine human. Brian is a great partner in so many ways. We live simply but happily, in a modest city with good people around us.

I knew who Brian was, years before I knew his name. He performed 1920s songs with his ukulele and I loved the music. If I saw that “the ukulele guy” was playing,  I’d show up at the concert.

We married over 15 years ago. Around that time, he taught me how to play the Heftone Bass. I was a trained singer who had played guitar in my teens. Bass was just the ticket.

Now, we sing as “The Fabulous Heftones.” We do love songs almost exclusively, most of them from 1900-1930.

It’s said that there are 3 kinds of love songs: 1) I wish I was in love… 2) I’m in love and it’s great… 3) I was in love and I’m not anymore; I wish I was still in love. We concentrate on the 2nd sort of song. There are good songs from the 1920s which fit the other categories, but we don’t sing them in our act.

We were on the radio on Friday. The DJ/host asked us if we maybe ramp up the romance a little more for Valentine’s day.

It was a reasonable question. Really, though? How much more could we ramp it up? These old songs are so well crafted that they speak for themselves.

If you’re in Lansing (Michigan), we will be performing twice Tuesday. Neither performance has a cover charge, and both are excellent locally-owned businesses with quality products. Perhaps you’d enjoy coming by?

3:30-5:30 Foods for Living (East Lansing, very near Okemos)

6:30-8:30 Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine (East Lansing, near Frandor)

If you won’t be coming by for either concert, you can still hear us by listening online or downloading the music file to your computer. Our “Moon June Spoon”  album has not only music files but chords and words! Just cllick Moon June Spoon.

3 New Gratitudes today

  • Brian
  • Music
  • My Heftone Bass, made by Brian’s father. It was a gift. It gives me and other folks pleasure.

Surround Yourself with Allies

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Make it a point to be around those with positive energy—people who want what’s best for you, people who understand your goals and priorities.
–Rebecca Lobo

Yes! Who could say it better than that?

We choose our life focus every day. People near us add or subtract from our state of mind. It’s crucial to pick our comrades well.

Three New Gratitudes (Dayd 9 of 21)
Listening to Brian play ukulele in our living room.
Friend Tony (today, tea and knitting).
A day where I didn’t need to go out in the cold.

How to be an Artist. Really.

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Go into the arts. I’m not kidding.
The arts are not a way to make a living.
They are a very human way of making life more bearable.
Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly,
is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.
Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories.
Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem.
Do it as well as you possibly can.
You will get an enormous reward.
You will have created something.

–Kurt Vonnegut

Wow. ColorJoy, the blog, began because people kept acting like I was creative and they weren’t. They wanted to sort of put my creativity on a pedestal and make themselves more distanced, rather than creating, practicing, creating again.

Person after person said “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Everyone had a sibling who was the creative one in the family. I had a sneaking suspicion that they were selling themselves short. They said they were were not “Artists.” I felt they might be.

I believe that cooking, gardening, raising children, creating welcoming social spaces and many more activities are creative. We don’t have to perform or make pretty things which hang on walls, in picture frames, to be an artist.

It makes me sad to see that so many people distance themselves from the idea of creativity. While they are adding new herbs to a recipe, they tell themselves they are not artful. I wish I could express the feeling I get in my gut when I think about this.

I want to broaden the concept of art, not make it smaller and rare like a diamond. I imagine it as a rainbow which makes everything around it more colorful and special. Some rainbows are not as perfect as others, but we appreciate them all.

Every person has some sort of creativity in them. If you give 100 people a beige cubicle in which to sit all day while working, 100 of them will make it a little more theirs, at least by putting up photos of people or things they love and appreciate. We are driven to decorate and to nest. This is only one example of self expression.

I call it creativity. I call it art. Thus my blog theme:

ColorJoy. Art as an Everyday Attitude.

What sounds fun to create right now? Would you like to work with sound, words, color, flavor, relationship? Crayons, kazoo, vegetables, cinnamon, yarn, telephone call?

Can you imagine doing it imperfectly and calling it good, as our esteemed Mr. Vonnegut suggests? Can you give it a go and believe that doing it, doing it at all, is the perfect part?

What will you do creatively today? I assure you, it’s worth the effort. Yes, you do have the time.

Thanks to REVUE Mid-Michigan for finding this quote.

Three New Gratitudes (Day 8 of 21)

  • A spacious, light-filled bathroom with claw-footed tub.
  • A sink that has a stopper to hold water and which drains effortlessly (just over a year old, and still a daily joy).
  • The paint trim colors inside our house… soft aqua/turquoise and lavender. I’ve had these colors in 3 homes now, and they feel so joyful.

Care to Live Enough

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Our care should not be to have lived long as to have lived enough.
— Seneca

It was a too-busy day, in a good way. We sang two performances, I taught a beginning knitting class, wrote a handout… Dinner was served at 11pm.

It’s late, so I’m going to share 3 gratitudes and the quote above, and go to sleep. I teach a Sock-In-A-Day class tomorrow. It’s intense but fun.

Three new gratitudes (day 7 of 21):

  • The opportunity to teach 4 women to knit, from the beginning.
  • A satisfying new recipe twist on an “old” recipe.
  • The fun experience of singing with Brian on a radio/TV show today as special Valentines Week guests. A wonderful perk of being musical and in love!

The Sweetness of Enough

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Half of an orange tastes just as sweet as a whole one.
— Panamanian Proverb

Half an orange is enough. A bit of time snuggled with a dear child is good when a full afternoon is not available. A peek of sunshine through the clouds is enough to get a winter-weary soul through a long day.

This week I’ve been practicing doing household tasks “well enough.” The concept of regular maintenance versus project-focus has helped me let go of impossible or unworthy standards.

The Toss-it Tuesday project is helping me stay focused on letting go. One table or dresser top at a time I’m working through things which never had an official home. I either assign a home or let it go. It’s rewarding.

Small steps are adding up. Half oranges? Definitely sweet.

In the 3 gratitudes per day department (day 6 of 21):

  • The simple pleasure of a warm facecloth on my face.
  • Time today with an 8 yr old snuggled on my lap.
  • The simple and relaxing act of making knit stitches with wonderful yarn.

Wealth and Contentment

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

If you are content with what you have, you are wealthy.
— Unknown

Today I celebrate what I do have. Today I acknowledge my friends, family and other colleagues and aquaintances who make my life so fine. I am fully, abundantly wealthy. My life is made up of good in all ways. I’m grateful.

In the 3 gratitudes per day department (day 5 of 21):

  • An abundance of skills and creative abilities from which to make things that make me smile.
  • Eyes which see and adore color (a friend’s husband is black/white color blind, other folks I know are fully blind… I’m appreciative).
  • The Internet. What an amazing relationship tool it is, what a fine information-gathering resource!

(The photo I took in January, in our south-side yard. We had snow and blooming violets at the same time. It was magnificent.)

Toss-it Tuesday

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

It’s Toss-it Tuesday again! Did it catch you off guard, too?

Last week Wednesday was my first tossing day. I did spend a little time most days last week going through piles of old magazines. About 3 dozen landed in recycling, though I kept some others.

Last Week Took More than Tuesday
Wednesday I found a copy-paper box with 6 glass 2-quart canning jars in it. I got them thinking I’d use them for my dyeing studio but never needed them.

A dance friend does a lot of canning. I asked if she wanted the jars. She was very happy to have them. She’s got a child with many allergies and this will allow her to make homemade apple juice. Win/win.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?
Also, Friday my good (magenta) dress coat lost its last button. Fortunately, I felt it pop and saved the button before it became lost.

In this case, I have chosen to keep the matchy-matchy magenta buttons. It’s the dressy coat I wear over my gowns for singing engagements. On my other coats I tend to replace buttons with coloful, new options.

This weekend I put all the magenta buttons back on securely. While I did that, I emptied my old sewing/embroidering case which had broken.

It was a shiny metal lunch box, where the hinge holding the lid on just gave way. I’d started using an old knitting bag with lots of zippers, as my sewing case. However, I’d never moved the embroidery items from the broken box into it.

That process ended in a good toss… a lot of broken buttons, short bits of embroidery thread and elastic, and more… all in the trash. I also moved some beads to the bead box. That felt like a real accomplishment.

(I also moved some let-go-of items from near the back door, to my car. Hopefully that means I’ll take them to a charity shop on Wednesday. Alas, the place I used to go burned down just before Christmas. My routine is a little messed up by that… but nothing like the folks who worked there.)

A New Week… What Will it Be?
Today, who knows? I hope I’ll toss some things on this desk. It doesn’t stay clean for more than a few days. The main desk surface is still visible, but the piles surrounding my computer are starting to grow. (I swear paper piles grow from the bottom up, like mushrooms pushing through the leaves above!)

Are you planning to toss anything today? What will it be?

Day 4 of 21:
My 3 New Gratitudes for Today

  • Fun Clothes in my Closet
  • Plenty of yarn from which to choose, for new projects
  • Excellent soup in the crockpot for dinner. (Leftover tomato sauce, beans & some frozen veggies… not much work to make a good meal.)

The Wilderness of Your Intuition

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Be brave enough to live life creatively
The creative is the place where
no one else has ever been.
You have to leave the city of
your comfort and go into
the wilderness of your intuition.
You can’t get there by bus,
only by hard work and risk,
and by not quite knowing what you are doing.
What you will discover will be
What you discover will be
Alan Alda

Intuition is a life saving part of us, in some ways. We have a feeling that someone is untrustworthy, for example, and that might save us some grief. Maybe we can use the term “gut feeling” if that makes more sense.

Being Human
I alternate times when I listen & trust my gut, and times I ignore it and try to force things.

Right now, I want to follow my gut more with my visual creativity. I want to use more color, want to dress in different combinations.

The equilateral vest I’m knitting requires a bit of gut following. I had to really change it but it will look good on me the new way.

It seems I want to embellish everything. I want to embroider my clothes, paint my office & kitchen… and my car.

Everyday Work Creativity
Alan Alda is talking of creative work, not a wardrobe or car. He’s pretty genius. Yet it takes practice to get to genius.

Does it seem to you that gut risks feel less comfortable in winter? I have a sense that protecting our skin from cold impacts our emotional need for protection, too.

I just went back and read mr. Alda’s quote again. A winter wilderness is a beautiful vision, don’t you agree?

Day 3 of 21:
My 3 New Gratitudes for Today

Work… With good people who appreciate me.

Working kitchen & laundry appliances which make my life more comfortable.

Central heat. Having been chilly indoors in Mexico, Egypt & Ethiopia, a dial on the wall which creates warmth is a celebrated part of my life.

Incomplete perfection

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

The easiest way to do art is to dispense with success and failure altogether and just get on with it.
— Stephen Nachmanovitch, from the book Free Play (The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts)

I’m a messy housekeeper. Some things I’ve historically organized better, but the tops of my tables have always been imperfect. I remember things when I see them out there… Can you relate?

For instance, Friday on our way to sing a private concert, a button from my magenta dress coat decided to pop off. I put the button on the kitchen table to remind me to fix it. The table gets full of reminders.

With this messy surface style, I somehow thought I was airy-fairy about cleaning & tidying. However a few months back, at age 53, I learned… Sometimes I’m perfectionist.

Pick Your Battles Well
I know I’m particular about my artwork when it goes in public. I’m OK with hiccups in knitting socks for me, but not for display. This makes sense. I didn’t imagine I was fussy in other ways.

BUT: this October I listened to an audio from Cairene MacDonald of ThirdHandWorks.com wherein she talks about “Making Peace with Maintenance.” Her talk truly has changed things for me.

She explains that maintenance naturally continues and thus can’t be finished for long. Dishes, she says, can be done for now. However, there will be more “…so long as you continue to eat.” So logical, but a totally new idea to me.

She also says that when we get behind on maintenance, we then end up with a project to get it back in order.

Projects vs. Maintenance
If we get used to falling behind and then push hard to “catch up once and for all…,” then we may get good at projects rather than maintenance. We repeat the cycle. I’m definitely in the project habit.

That’s me in a nutshell. I now bake for part of my living. By definition, this creates dirty dishes.

I don’t like doing dishes (though our 1/2 sized dishwasher is wonderful). I was always bummed at all those dishes.

A New Approach
I decided to practice imperfection, to “just get on with it.” I’d start to load some dishes but not expect to finish filling the washer.

The odd part? I would be more likely start loading dishes if I didn’t feel required to get the washer running. And once started, I almost always get to the washer-starting goal.

It’s hard to imagine perfectionism with dishwasher loading, but it appears I had that attitude.

A New Reality
The kitchen counter is cleaner, since I listened to Ms MacDonald. I wonder what else can get done more if I let go of my own expectations?

Do you also face this? Have you any hints?

Day 2 of 21:
My 3 New Gratitudes for Today

  • A successful 1st try baking crackers with Sorghum flour
  • A button box, full of history, which brings me joy
  • An 8 yr old “Fairy Goddaughter” who feels I’m a safe source of answers, & who requests time with me.

Gratitude Causes Happiness & Success?

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

I really love the inspiring short speeches which can be found on the TED.com website. TED is a world-reaching organization which presents “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

There are also locally-run partner events called TEDx events. I attended the Lansing one last year, which was incredibly exciting.

I just this week listened to a new TEDx video, which talks about happiness. The speaker, Psychologist Shawn Achor, says that our society has it wrong. We think we should a) work hard, b) succeed, and c) become happy… in that order, with a cause and effect from one to the next.

Achor says that it really works like this: If we are happy, our work becomes more productive and it’s easier to be successful. Happiness can lead to success, in his model.

The speech is less than 13 minutes long and is humorous as well as factual. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it.

The speech’s main downside may be that it’s so funny that you might not see the serious side, the research that is behind his comic delivery. Listen, though, and he does have much to say.


“…what we’re finding that it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality… and if we can change the lens not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.

“…90% of your longterm happiness is predicted not by the external world but by the way your brain processes the world… and if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, what we can do is change the way that we can then effect reality.”

One of the techniques he mentions for boosting a happier outlook is a gratitude exercise (a practice, if you prefer).

For a period of 21 days, participants write down 3 new things for which they are grateful. In 3 weeks, that adds up to 63 things consciously celebrated with gratitude. By then, a person is tuned into noticing good things in their life.

I’m Game!

I find the grey days of the winter months to be difficult for my best self. Complaining comes more often this time of year.

I think I’ll be trying this exercise. It can only be good… Feeling better about life has no down side.

Today I’m grateful for:
My husband, Brian.
My family.
You, who read these words I share.