Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cowichan Sweaters-- A New Challenge

I don't think I would define myself as a hardcore collector-- even my stash is (I swear) very manageable. But there are four things of which I have modest collections: chopsticks, knitting needles (I mean fun, old ones, in addition to the ones I actually work with), quilts and... wait for it...


Yep. I have quite a bit of ink. This might sound like a stretch but I like my tattoos in a way similar to how I like my knitting. Both begin with an idea and a picture or a sketch, one that immediately evokes a sense of joy and excitement. Both carry stories with them-- I can tell you where I was when I knitted this or that, and I can tell you the significance of each of my tats.

I especially love it when the two worlds collide. These days I see one tattoo artist exclusively-- Bart Willis at Southside Tattoo in Austin. You might not think that a tattoo artist in Texas would have any interest in knitting. But consider that Bart is a Canadian transplant and then the equation changes. He spends his summers working in Western Canada and this affords him legitimate opportunities to wear wool in July. Once, long ago, I made him a nice thick hat for his Northwest summer adventures.

A few weeks ago to celebrate my 49th birthday, I visited Bart and got a new tattoo-- a piece of artwork my son drew when he was ten and we were on a trip to Japan. The image is extremely significant to me and reflects growth, change, adventure and, of course, love of my son.

While I sat in the chair getting worked on, Bart asked me if I knew about Cowichan sweaters. I did not. But I whipped out my iPad when the needles weren't moving and did a quick search. Turns out Cowichan is the name of a First Nations Tribe and the sweaters are well known in southeastern Vancouver Island. Even if you never heard the name, it's possible you've seen the distinct style, which often features animals native to the area.

The more we talked the more excited I got. And then, before you know it, I had happily committed to making Bart his own Cowichan sweater, the one pictured above, featuring Killer Whales, an image Bart often tattoos on people. In fact, if there were a Guinness Book of World Records record for most Orcas tattooed on people, Bart would be the record holder. Pretty cool, right-- how I walk in a place for some ink and I come out with new knitting knowledge.

Bart started researching patterns and this in turn led us to Carol, who has an Etsy shop called Rain Coast Studio.  Carol patiently fielded my ten gazillion questions as we strived to come up with just the right color combo an determine if there was a pattern the right size for Bart who is not quite as big as Sasquatch but could maybe be his little brother. Finally, all that was settled. I expect the kit to arrive any day now. I am super excited that it contains Canadian wool, which I first heard about when I read a tribute to Canadian singer Kate McGarrigle, mother to Rufus Wainwright (whom I adore) in the New York Times.

Apparently Kate liked to use scratchy Quebec wool to make Norwegian sweaters. When I was on a trip to Canada last summer, over in the east in the maritimes, I was in a whale-watching town called St. Andrews and there I came across Cottage Craft, a yarn and craft shop that's been around forever. I picked up some semi-scratchy wool of my own which I've knitted into a fabulous swatch and am about to knit into a full-on sweater pattern I've been thinking about for a few years now. I mean, this wool knits up beautifully, as in I want to buy a mountain of it just to have on hand.

But first, before I get to that other sweater and the imagined mountain of Cottage Craft wool projects, I must first joyfully dive into the Cowichan sweater which, I admit, looks a little daunting. I'm going to figure it out though. And while Carol tells me the wool is soft, just knowing the source adds an extra thrill for me. (The deeper I get into knitting, the more I want to know-- the animals, where they live, how they are raised, their names!)

I'll let y'all know how it goes.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Putting a Spin on Things

 I am so very, very excited. As I move into my 14th year of knitting (or is it my 13th? my 15th? Time flies when you're trying to make every single pattern you love....) I am taking it to the next level. My dream of learning to spin, which I mentioned in an earlier post,  has come true!

The dream began a few years ago, when I thought it would be cool to get even closer to the origins of the fiber. I took a drop spindle class but the teacher was kind of cranky and I never did get the hang of it. So I set the idea down. Then a year or so ago, I decided to learn how to play with spinning wheels. I found another teacher, and she was cool, and the ideas she shared with me made a tiny bit of sense. So it was like I had learned a few letters of the alphabet. But with no wheel of my own, I couldn't practice. Sort of like knowing a little French but having nowhere to try out my new language skills.

My excellent teacher, Aimee, showing me how it works.  
My first yarn! Yep, I made this!
I back-burnered the idea again, but did not forget it. When my LYS sent out a notice about a Big Sale that included a Louet wheel, I jumped on it. Next step, find a teacher. I Googled around for a teacher in my area. The universe sent a signal I was on the right path when two things happened nearly simultaneously. I found a teacher who, through our email exchanges, indicated she did understand my learning process, which I spelled out for her (I need someone PATIENT to teach me new skills). And then, an old friend of mine emailed out of the blue that she had some bags of wool that needed to be spun and did I know anyone interested. Here's the kicker: my friend and my new teacher live ON THE SAME STREET. And it's not like I live in some tiny town. Very cool.

Aimee, the amazing spinning teacher!
My second ball of yarn. Oh this is SO FUN!

So I picked up the wool, I took a class, I dropped in on a Spin-In the other day full of avid spinners. I am totally on my way. I love it. So fun, so relaxing, so rewarding.

Next goal: a flock of sheep in my backyard. One thing at a time. Maybe I can save that goal for 2020.