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Archive for January, 2010

Gonna be a while…

I’m currently in the throes of Middle School Musical season and as I’m the director and producer of this show I am way too busy to blog much until about March 7th. Thank you all who read my blog and if you happen to be in the Boston area in early March please come see “Pied Piper–The Musical” at Parker Middle School in Reading on March 4th, 5th, and 6th.

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“You need to quit your teaching career…and make beer for a living!”

These words from a supervisor rocked my world today. First off, there was the shock at the suggestion that I quit my career, one which I love very much. Then I realized that she was actually complimenting me and I got all happy.

See, I had given her and a few other co-workers the Christmas gift of 6-packs of the fruits of my other obsession…homebrewing (well, not my only other obsession. There’s also Elizabeth Mitchell of “Lost” fame). She loved my homebrew so much that she said something that sent me down a very slippery slope.

For years my wife and I have fantasized about opening up our own business. With my imagination and her skill at the crunching of numbers it just may work. But what kind of business? We’ve gone from coffee shop/book store (because that’s never been done before) to private school to an everything-store simply called “Bob.” Recently I’ve even thought of trying a yarn store/coffee shop. But this comment awakened a fire in me.

Imagine it…(begin dream sequence, complete with spooky music)

You want to go to your knitting group, and maybe buy some yarn. Your husband (for you are the stereotypical American couple) wants to go grab a pint with his buddies, and maybe some sweet potato fries. You leave the house TOGETHER and walk into SPACE MONKEY BREWERY AND YARNS: two stores in one. One one side of the pub you are admiring the brand new hand-painted sock yarn your friend has, and decide to walk over to the yarn bins to buy it. On the other end your husband is watching the Patriots with his buds. In between there may be some cool indie band playing acoustic folk rock (replace spooky music with a guy who sounds kinda’ like Sufjan Stevens). He has a Stout and football. You have an Amber Ale and new yarn. You both have a very nice evening out.

(end dream sequence…keep the guy who sounds like Sufjan Stevens playing)

I think it’s a brilliant idea. Furthermore, I think the Boston area is just the place to pull it off.

Who’s ready to invest?

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Craftsmanship

This morning at church I found myself involved in a conversation about the economics of instant gratification. The lady I was talking to was born toward the end of the Great Depression and was raised with the mindset that you just don’t buy things unless you have the money on hand. Credit was just unheard-of. Things were often also a bit more expensive compared to now, when taking into consideration the changing value of the dollar. You paid more for many items because there was a bit more involved. Whether it be food coming from a source other than factory farms or hand-made goods, what you paid for was craftsmanship.

In our present culture of cheap, our sense of the true cost of things has been skewed. We buy things “on special” because they really aren’t that special. We shell out chump change for clothing made on the other side of the world where people get paid very little, rather than supporting local businesses and craftsmanship.

Yes, craftsmanship is expensive. Quality materials are expensive. Later on I overheard a friend asking, “Why would somebody pay $30 for a skein of sock yarn?” True, you can get plain cotton socks in 6-packs for $3 at your local Wal-Mart, and for a little more you can get something fancier. But nothing like a pair of custom-fit merino socks in funky hand-dyed colors with intricate stitch work. These are at a premium, and for that reason they stand out. Not everyone is rockin’ a pair of socks that get noticed.

The lady from the first conversation bemoaned the way that true craftsmanship has died out, and in many respects I agree that this is the case. But all you need to do is look at the over half a million Ravelry users and large number of Etsy shoppers to know that craft is on the upswing. Many people, though they aren’t in the majority, are starting to see the value of buying items made by hand and making the items themselves. There’s just nothing like investing yourself in something. It’s primal. It’s real. It’s tangible in ways that the discount stores just can’t compete with.

This blog has always focused on story, because every hand-made item has a story; a bit of my own life.  I am proud to be part of the new generation of craftsmen breathing life into hand-made things.

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Here’s the list, in no particular order (pics will follow in a later post):

  • Short row heels are not as hard as they look.
  • Merino is not the best fiber to start my spinning career with. Merino is, of course, what’s currently on my drop spindle.
  • Awesome spinning terms like “drafting”, “plying”, “staple”, and “going commando.” I still don’t get that last one’s relevance to spinning.
  • When I spin it’s really chunky. This is normal for beginners, I think.
  • Double-knitting looks REALLY cool and isn’t really that hard.
  • Alasdair is a double-knitting demi-god. Don’t believe me? Check out his site to see why!
  • I don’t suck at crochet! It really is possible for me to learn this!
  • Guido is NOT rude, contrary to the belief of some teenagers.
  • A loosely-constructed schedule of fiber-related classes really CAN work.

I think that my favorite part of Fiber Camp, though, was building bridges with other Boston-area fiber fanatics. Community has always been a draw for me when it comes to knitting, and I met lots of wonderful people as a result of this experience. Thank you, Common Cod Fiber Guild, for an amazing experience. I only wish I’d been able to attend more of it.

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The Hungarian Horntail Dragon had beaten me, at least for a little while. After a 3-day period to retreat, regroup, and send him to Charlie Weasley to be studied and tamed, I’m ready to cast on again.

Several things happened on this sock. First off, I tried to use double-pointed needles: a plan that would work for most people. After all, the pattern calls for them. Four on the cuff and five on the gusset. However, I have sworn off double-pointed needles and now I remember why. Between the drop-factor (a considerable issue in the past) and the excessive laddering issues between the needles, it just wasn’t working for me.

Then I tried to knit these things in church. This is normal for me. I take my knitting everywhere with me. But as complicated as this pattern is, catastrophe struck. The frickin’ dragon burned me badly. It started with my paying too much attention to the sermon and mis-counting something on this fairly complicated scaly lace pattern. Then as I was going back, stitch by stitch, to realign everything, I dropped one of my k2tog tbl stitches. Even if you don’t knit, you can probably tell that’s bad, right? Finally, I just had to say “Piss it!” and give up.

Today I cast on again, and I have changed a couple of things. First off, I’m using the magic loop technique. No fear of dropping needles, and the laddering seems to be a bit more under control. Secondly, I’m going to be very careful about the conditions under which I knit these socks. At least until I get the pattern down, I need to be able to focus totally on the pattern and not have too much going on.

If I didn’t love this pattern so much (Cookie A is a GENIUS!) I would have thrown it out altogether. The truth is I love the look of it, and can’t wait to be able to wear these socks. So I hop back onto my trusty steed, 40-inch cabled joust in hand, and I ride off to the mountain lair of this formidable opponent, determined to conquer it.

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January 9 and 10, 2010

Arsenal Center For The Arts

321 Arsenal Street

Watertown, MA 02472

If you live in the Boston area and want a great way to connect with other knitters, I highly recommend this. Check out the blog and the wiki.

It’s an interesting concept: an UN-conference. Sponsored by the Common Cod Fiber Guild, Fiber Camp is a gathering of fiber fanatics sharing small bits with the greater knitting community. Costs are kept low (a mere $37 for me, a non-Cod-member) due to the fact that they’re not bringing in big name teachers…it’s us. Camp attendees. I myself am presenting a brief session on the Strong Heel. There are other sessions on beginning drop-spindle spinning, backward knitting, entrelac, and many other techniques. It’s open source learning at its finest and I can’t wait.

The admission price also includes a keynote on Friday evening (normal Common Cod meeting) from Julia Farwell-Clay, features director at twistcollective.com, who will share her thoughts on the evolution of the online knitting community. This will be at MIT, 32 Vassar St., Cambridge.

So if any of you New England readers have been wondering “What the heck should I do this weekend?” this could be your answer. Hope to see you there.

And for those of you who can’t make it, I’ll be updating from Fiber Camp and after the fact.

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Yesterday I got a glorious gift in the mail: my first drop spindle.

This is glorious for several reasons. First off, I’ve been wanting to learn how to spin for a while. One of my goals for my next year of knitting was to learn to spin, so I’m well on my way. The timing is also a beautiful thing, as next weekend I’ll be going to Fiber Camp Boston and one of the courses I’ve been looking forward to is a drop spindle course taught by Guido Stein (of “It’s a Purl, Man” fame) so now I’ll have my own drop spindle and some fiber to learn on. Thank you, Kelley, for digging the next rabbit hole for me to fall down.

I need a new hobby about like I need a hole in the head, but my life goal is to go full-on sheep-to-sweater one day. That’ll never happen here in the suburbs of Boston; I can imagine the reactions of the 5 neighboring families whose property touches this one, as well as that of our landlord. But I do dream of one day raising my own wool animals, spinning and dying my own yarn, and knitting my projects from that yarn. It’s about self-sufficiency and sustainability. I feel that this beautiful little drop spindle brings me one small step closer.

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