Monday, December 15, 2008

holidays at home

I've never spent a Christmas somewhere other than my parent's house, but this year I won't be in Connecticut to celebrate with my family until after the holiday. I'll miss making cookies with cousins, decorating the tree in my Parent's living room, and partaking in the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day gatherings. But I'm not going to be all alone this year; I'll be celebrating with Z and his Mom. One of the benefits of remaining at my house from Christmas is this year I've actually had a reason to decorate the house. I started my quest in August, when I knit Z's stocking. Ever since, I've been steadily working toward finishing gifts and making holiday decorations. Now that Christmas is less than two weeks away, I'm nearing the final stretch of my preparations. My mother and sister's gifts are complete, and I'm working on dad, grandma, and my brother. I opted to complete small projects for each person this year in an attempt to finish everything, and I might actually pull it off.
Of course, in between gift making, I've been filling our house with winter greenery and handmade garlands, like the i-cord I knit to hang over the fireplace.
One of the advantages of living in the South during the winter is magnolia trees. Their leaves are so shiny and festive, I of course couldn't resist fashioning an arrangement for our mantle.

In addition to decorating our fireplace, I've strung cranberry garlands, decorated our first Christmas tree, and made a prodigious number of cinnamon ornaments. I love opening the front door to the scent of spice, citrus, and evergreen; it's what I remember Christmas smelling like when I was little.
Although I've already finished so much of what I set out to complete, I'll probably be working right through Christmas Eve. But that's how I like to spend the holidays - accumulating piles of handmade gifts. Anyhow, in the winter there's nothing better than curling up in a warm house with knitting in hand and loved ones by my side. That's certainly how I'll be spending my time during the coming week.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

my week in boxes

I've spent the better part of this week assembling lots of little handmade boxes. A lot of work goes into each one, but they're among my favorite book artsy things to make. This year, I vowed that I would have a batch to sell at various holiday fairs, and I've happily succeeded; I've got 15 hinged boxes covered in all sorts of fabrics and coordinating book cloths. A part of me really wants to make hundreds of these little containers - enough to build myself a fortress. But that would leave me no time to do necessary things like finishing my current book project and sleeping.

And the winners are ...

I had no idea I would get as many responses as I did yesterday. Thanks to everyone who commented, and I hope you'll stop back by the blog from time to time! After consulting a random list generator, I'm happy to announce that Megan and Katy are the contest winners. If I haven't contacted you, please leave your email address or some other way for me to get in touch with you in a comment.

I had a lot of fun yesterday, and wouldn't be surprised if I hosted another giveaway later this month. Check back for updates!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Happy Giveaway Day

Life has been busy here at the press. I've spent the last few days making holiday boxes and carving linoleum until my fingers were raw (really, I have the wounds to prove it!), but I'm not complaining. Once Friday rolls around, I'm going to have a batch of adorable hinged boxes and a stack of handmade holiday cards.

Today, however, I get to take a little break from my production schedule and participate in Sew Mama Sew's Giveaway Day. I'm offering one of my hand stitched and painted journals to one person. To play, before the end of today, tell me about something you're making for the holidays. And of course, don't forget to check out all of the other goodies on offer today!

Since so many of you are participating in the giveaway day madness, I've decided to give one more gift: A set of 4 letterpress printed holiday cards. I'm still working on these, but here's a preview! They're printed with a very heraldic hand-carved linocut.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey, spinning wheel, holiday giveaway!

I haven't quite digested the fact that the holiday season is here. I have however, digested a lot of turkey, sweet potato, stuffing, shrimp and grits, and other festive foods. And now I'm getting ready for the holidays.
This will be my first year spending it here in Alabama with Z instead of back in Connecticut, and although I will miss making cookies with my Mom, sister, and cousins, and the Christmas Eve and Day family festivities, I'm excited about decorating my own house and having people over for multiple celebrations. In preparation for the season, I spent Thanksgiving weekend doing nothing but eating with friends, knitting like a fiend, and watching more cartoons than I probably have in years. On Thanksgiving I made a delicious cider brined turkey, my first ever, and it turned out beautifully glazed and golden. We had fun photographing each other and the dogs, and joined our friends for a massive dinner, which featured duck roasted in an outdoor brick oven, smoked turkey, and my brined bird. All that eating and socializing drove Z and I to spend the rest of the weekend curled up on the couch, and we watch movies and cartoons as I knit us each an Elizabeth Zimmermann winter cap and finished a tomten jacket I had started a few days prior.
Now I'm getting ready to return to life as usual, which isn't actually so bad either. I'll be making paper and handmade boxes this week, cleaning the house in preparation for holiday decorating, and continuing my gift knitting. I've got a long way to go, but since I've knocked out a couple of presents already, I think I'll be able to manage.
Of course, life as usual also means spinning on my brand new Kromski minstrel, which arrived in the mail just two weeks ago. I tried out one of these pretty wheels while I was at SAFF, and knew it was my wheel. As soon as I sat down to spin, I wanted to buy the minstrel immediately, but I was a good girl. I sold my Ashford traditional and a huge stash of rovings that I'd never actually have time to make into yarn. And then I got to buy my wheel. Now that it's in my home, assembled and in near constant use, I'm thrilled, and as you can see, so is Zelda. The Minstrel spins like a dream, it's easy to carry from place to place, and the design is just fancy enough. I love how it looks in our living room (the place where it stays so I can hang out with Z and spin at the same time). Once the holiday season is over, I have big plans to knit a sweater from my own handspun; I've already got about 1/3 of the yarn done, and will be spinning the rest when I'm not doing all of the other things on my "to do" list!
In addition to the work and domestic chores, I'll be participating in Sew Mama Sew's giveaway day on December 3rd. Check back that day to play along and maybe get a handmade book from me! Also, this coming Sunday I'll be at the DCDC craft fair selling all manner of handmade bookish things. It's being held at the UA Arboretum from one until four in the afternoon, under the pavilion. Support local artists and buy handmade this year!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I've finished an embellished journal, and I think I'm in love. There are several more waiting to be sewn at home, but until they're finished, I'll be lavishing this pretty thing with lots of attention. I can't wait to make more!

Monday, November 10, 2008

painting, embroidering, and baking

That's the brief synopsis of how I spent my weekend. Lately I've been experimenting with using just fabric to cover my books. It seems like a good idea, since I'm awfully fond of embroidering designs of my book covers, and skipping the whole adhering fabric to board part would save me a couple of steps.
I've spent a long time thinking about how to make my fabric into usable, sturdy covers, and now I've finally applied all that thinking to coming up with an actual project. They're turning out beautifully. I coated natural covered heavyweight canvas with tinted gesso to get a sturdy but flexible material, and I've been playing with different fabric and beaded/button embellishments. I can't wait until I've got finished journals to photograph!
I should have four available for sale at the greencup books zine and media fest this Friday and Saturday in Birmingham, that is, unless I encounter problems with the binding. I don't think that's going to be the case, though. I already know how I'm sewing the journals, and I'll be reinforcing the spine with coordinating gessoed pieces to prevent it from cupping inward.
I did take a short break from bookbinding on Saturday to make perhaps the most delicious cake ever. Since October, I've wanted to make a spice cake, and when I found this recipe, I could no longer resist the temptation. My finished cake, with molasses-cream cheese icing, toasted pecans, and homemade caramel sauce, was a hit. Since I was feeling festive, I even gathered some magnolia leaves from the front yard and used them to line my cake plate. It was so lovely that my heart sank a little when we started cutting into it. But as soon as I took a bite, I had no remorse for destroying a thing of beauty. Now if the remnants weren't in the fridge taunting me ...
I just need to make more book covers and I'll forget all about it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Congratulations President Obama!

We did it! I've been wearing a stupid-silly grin ever since about 10:00pm eastern time yesterday evening (alright, I may have taken a couple of hours off for some sleep), and it's not dissapearing anytime soon. I am so thrilled that I got to vote in this election, and that my vote was counted as part of the "youth voter" demographic for one last time. Our vociferous support for Obama helped him win the white house, and I think it's shown us how much influence we actually do have.
Above all, I'm hopeful for the future. I know that amidst the noise of celebration, some have asked, "hopeful for what?", and "what kind of change?" While I won't pretend to speak for everyone who's savoring victory today, I would like to identify what it is I'm looking forward to.
A good bit of the Obama campaign was based on grassroots efforts; people worked within their own communities to register voters, host benefits and house parties, and canvas for their candidate. And now we've seen an example of how much influence individual actions can have at the national level. I see Obama's victory as the beginning of a time when we uphold community service as a mainstream value, and when everyone is motivated to donate some time to uplifting their cities and towns.
Obama's message hinges strongly on this ethic of service, and after hearing his address at grant park, I don't think that will be changing anytime soon. He addressed the public as a president who's willing to forego the platitudes and cynicism we've gotten used to hearing over the past eight years.
I, like millions of others, heard his call to action, and I'm inspired. For some time now, I've wanted to make a career out of community-based arts education, and in a political climate that seems to respect, and hopefully, reward those endeavors, I feel emboldened. I'm excited for the next four years - for the good work that will be done in Washington, and for the good work I will do here, in Tuscaloosa.
Now, let's take a day to celebrate!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

festivals! workshops! elections!

Happy election day! The months of nail-biting are finally about to end, and I'm excited because it means there'll be one less thing for me to fret over. Amidst all the election anticipation, I've been busy preparing for and traveling to festivals. The most recent one I attended was last weekend's Southeast animal fiber fair. It was spectacular, and I plan on returning next year. I met some wonderful people, including Britney of the knit witch (I brought home one of her gorgeous yarn bowls and have been using it ever since), and Nanney Kennedy of Seacolors Yarn.
I'm so thrilled with all of my SAFF purchases, which included a new kokovoko spindle, a 1-yard mini niddy noddy, yarn from the plain & fancy sheep & wool co., and from brooks farm.
Of course, I couldn't leave a fiber fair without picking up a couple of fleeces. I knew I wanted to find the perfect romney fleece while I was there, and I succeeded. On the first day, while wandering the main sales area, I found a farm that specialized in romney sheep, and pickup up this lovely 7.5lb charcoal fleece. It was one of only a few fleeces they had on display, and after spending no fewer that five minutes with my hand submerged in this beauty, I knew I had to have it. I've washed about a pound of the fiber, and it's turning out gorgeously. Once all the dirt and lanolin is out, it's a soft charcoal gray with cream and brown tips. It goes perfectly with the small kid mohair I picked up at the fleece sale. The curly little locks were too cute for me to pass up, and now that it's washed, they're extra lustrous. I'm working on carding some of the romney and mohair together for a spinning project that will eventually become a cabled sweater. Who knows; maybe next year I'll be entering the finished piece into the garment contest at SAFF.
My two new fleeces have invigorated my love for fiber prep. Working with a beautiful raw fleece is such a joy. When I've finally finished that sweater, I have a feeling I'll wear it often, and if anyone asks, I will be quick to take credit for the fiber preparation, spinning, and knitting that went into its creation.
As much as I'd love to dwell in the fiber world forever, I'm also making big plans in the book arts segment of my life. This week, I've been preparing to teach a geltin monoprint holiday card class at One Night Only Artique in Tuscaloosa. On Sunday, my co-teacher and I practiced the techniques we'll be teaching and how we'll be structuring the class. I made about a dozen prints with textures, cutouts, and a little bit of painting. This is one of my favorites.

I'm looking forward to teaching this weekend, and if all goes well, I'll be teaching a similar workshop for kids in the spring.
I'm also going to be leading a pamphlet-making activity during Thursday evening's Art Night event to advertise the printmaking and other upcoming workshops. If you're in town, stop by One Night Only any time after 6:00pm and make a pamphlet with me!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Books

A few new journals that will be gracing the tables at upcoming festivals. Wish them (me) luck!

Pocket-sized notebooks with mightcould handmade paper, wood type and a linocut.

and embroidered/painted/doodled ethiopian style link stitches and secret belgians. I've been churning these out with abandon, so these are only a few of the many I'll have for sale.

I'm also working on some new approaches to designing covers that I'll unveil in the near future. Of course, If you happen to be at the Kentuck Festival or the Southeast Animal Fiber Fair, you'll get to see them in person.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

how knitting journals are born

I'm an idea mill, and I have the filled notebooks to prove it. There aren't many days when I don't make plans for another creative project, but whether I actually complete it is another story. That doesn't mean I get nothing done; I simply don't have enough time to act on every rough sketch or sprawling materials list that I complete. I like to think that the projects/products I do finish represent my best ideas, and that the ones I've left behind are probably better left as daydreams and speculation.

One of the products I've recently been working on, and of which I'm proud, are my knitting journals. I'm nearing the completion of my first edition, but getting to this point involved a lot of work and deliberation. I started, several months ago, with the idea that I wanted to make hand bound knitting journals. At the time, I was thinking about actually printing prompts, rule, and even graph sheets, and then binding them into a book. While I might actually do this for future editions, I scrapped the idea for now, opting instead, to devote my attention to an attractive cover design.

Remember that blue paper I made a couple of weeks ago? That's what I began with. I knew, when I first began planning the design for these journals, that I wanted to use handmade paper for the covers, and these sheets' beautiful deep turquoise with even darker flecks of turquoise silk fiber were perfect.

I had no trouble deciding what to print on my book covers; I just combined my two current favorite printing elements: wood type and a rainbow roll. The studio where I work has a small collection of wood type in an assortment of faces and sizes. I pieced together a block of type that measured approximately the size of my book covers. The randomness of the type collection yielded a puzzle-like text block that's has a lot of visual appeal. While I set my cover design, it really did seem like I was putting together a jigsaw puzzle; I'm amazed that in the end everything fit together so nicely.

At the press, I got to print a rainbow roll, which allows you to print two colors in one press run. Rainbow rolls are pretty simple to execute, too. You just ink one half of the oscillating roller with one color and apply a second color to the other half. As the ink is evenly distributed across the rollers, the color blend at the center and create a gradient look. Here are some of the finished covers.

I love how the finished books look; the archival longstitch sewing across the spine ties everything together, structurally and design-wise. After a photo-shoot with Pam Morgan, who's responsible for the first picture in this post, the last stop (before they find owners) for these journals is the sales table at the art festivals I'll be attending throughout the season. Their popularity (or lack thereof) will have the final say on whether the design is successful.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

saff approaches

First, our finally-completed ad for saff. Sara and I worked hard at this all day yesterday, and I've finally decided it's ready to go. If you're going to the fair, check it out in the program guide!

I have less than one month to prepare for the southeast animal fiber fair. Am I nervous? Yes. I'm really, really nervous. It's been a challenge to balance my production schedules for book and fiber making, but I'm learning a lot about what sorts of things help me keep myself going.

For one thing, I've discovered that I'm so over the all-day-into-the-night schedule of insanity. If I get to take an early evening break to make dinner and spend a little time with Z before we both hit the books/fiber/paper, I'm a lot more inclined to complete my assigned evening tasks. In the spirit of ensuring our daily dinner breaks, we're starting to dilligently make a grocery list and meal plan every week and stick to it. Even though it's domestic labor, the planning pays off, because instead of eating out several nights in a row and getting stuck in the sandwich rut, we get to have collard greens and ginger-soy salmon fillets or pan-fried red cabbage and chicken sausage, turkey chilli with garbanzo and black beans or green been salad and balsamic chicken ... and I love the process involved in cooking.

When I was little, I would attempt to magic ramen noodles into something really delicious by adding an assortment of the McCormick spices from my Mom's pantry. My results weren't always delicious (okay, I don't think they ever were), but my experiments led, several years later, to my more serious study of spices and their appropriate uses. Now that I know what I'm doing, I feel like an alchemist in the kitchen, combining spices and herbs, tasting, considering, and adding more of something or the other. Cooking in this fashion makes me slow down and savor what I'm doing, to reflect on the day and what the evening might hold.

Something else I've discovered is that if I'm not out of bed by between 8:30 and 9:30, I will feel useless all day and lothargically drag myself from task to task. My proclivity towards working in the morning hours reminds me that yes, I am indeed grown up. Sleeping in is a weekend luxury, and something undergrads get to do with abandon. I think I'm alright with this fact; if I got to sleep in every day, I'd never actually savor the extra minutes in bed that special occassions allow.

Finally, I'm learning how to harness my frenetic energy and desire to bounce from one project to the next by building my weekly schedules around that tendency. This one is a work in progress, but by allowing myself to leave an overwhelming task for a while and do something (or a few things) else, I'm getting everything done. I try to keep the execution of each task methodical and well-planned, but that built-in allowance to stop and do parts of another task keep me from getting too bored.

Hopefully I'll be able to finish everything for the festival season, but even if I fall a little short of my goal, I'll know what is a realistic pace for me, and where I can improve my efficiency.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

boxes, batts, and paper

I've decided that when it comes to finishing my work, I should just never stop. I get more done that way. For example, since Sunday afternoon, I've been working tirelessly on preparing for SAFF and the Kentuck festival, and all my hard work really is yielding satisfying results. On Sunday, I finally got around to printing my fleece treats box lids. These cute little kraft boxes will be home to four ounces of yummy (and very different) fibers. I"m still looking forward to making paste paper dividers and a liner that identifies each fibers and provides space for note-taking before I begin packaging the fleece. Nevertheless, now that the labels are all printed, much of my work is done.

After my box-printing success, I decided to card some more arts and crafts batts. My pink BFL and silk from last week's dye session had finally dried, and so they became my next carding victims. My pile of finished batts is getting larger every day. Since last week I've done two "all the real girls" batts, with indigo dyed rambouillet, cochineal noily silk, strips of 1980s silk dress, and black alpaca, three of "first blush", with cochineal BFL and silk, a bit of purple-green BFL, and black alpaca, one "cosmos" with indigo BFL, black alpaca, noily silk dyed with wiltons, and other random scraps of wool, and a bright little batt I haven't yet named. I plan on doing one more "all the real girls" and "first blush", and I'm assembling supplies for "Paris Hilton sex tape." Hopefully that batch will be ready by next week! As always, I'm sorely tempted to just spin every single one of these batts myself, but I am strong! Now that I've gotten comfortable with my louet carder, every one of these girls are headed to SAFF, whether I like or not.

And as if I hadn't managed to get enough work done, between yesterday and today, I've made 40 sheets of lovely cover weight paper from cotton, linen, and silk. Here they are, drying in spurs. I'm planning on printing a couple of designs with wood type and linocuts on these pretty sheets. And then they'll become journals for Kentuck and SAFF. Tomorrow I'll be playing with paper some more and mordanting fiber. Go Heidi, go!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

workshop success

Yesterday I gave my first bookbinding workshop in Tuscaloosa since last May. In just under four hours, I taught my students how to create their own limp leather journals using only the most essential bookbinding tools. We tore down sheets of paper into folios with deckle edges, relied on bonfolders and our strength to reduce swell in our freshly folded sections, and used scissors and x-acto knives to complete the rest of our cutting. The only larger piece of equipment we used was a punching jig.

The structure I taught was based on historic models with long and link stitches, These structures originate from Northern Europe (especially Germany), and to a lesser extent, Italy and Spain. These stitches were commonly used for books that contained choir scores and academic texts. I taught a basic version of the long and link stitch but many more elaborate historic models exist, including those that feature leather and bone buttons, wandering link stitches, and wrapped long stitches along the spine. Nearly all of these limp bindings have reinforced spines, which ensure that the bookbinder can sew with enough tension and that the structure will be durable.

The long and link stitch is an excellent example of a structure that you can make without a full bookbinding studio. The stitch pattern looks just as beautiful when paired with hand-torn deckle pages as it does with more conventional board-shear-trimmed sheets. I can't wait to offer this class to a new set of future bookbinders, and show them how easily one can make beautiful books with modest tools.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

more fiber!

I spent most of today engaged in fibery activity, which, by default, means today's been excellent. I worked with a somewhat uncooperative cochineal dyebath; I tried mordanting and dyeing my wool simultaneously, and instead of the rich rasberry color I expected, I got at best, a darkish pink, and at worst, a washed-out baby pink. I almost despaired when an entire pound of rambouillet refused to hold much dye, but I am not one to despair. Instead, I called upon the trusty indigo vat to save from dissapointment. And oh, did she ever! Ten minutes submerged in the vat turned my lackluster roving into a lovely length of variegated cobalt blue and soft pink. It's shades are actually very similar to the skirt I decided to wear today. Perhaps there is a correlation between my chosen wardrobe and the colors my dyebaths will yeild. I think tomorrow I'll be wearing dark brown (for good luck with walnut dyeing) and red while I have another go at the cochineal.

Some of my other attempts with cochineal turned out acceptable. I now have about 8 ounces of deep pink BFL and some flicked targhee locks that look eerily like cotton candy.

While my dyebaths were busily simmering, I worked on flicking locks from the most beautiful Shetland fleece in the world. This fleece belongs to a sheep name Sybil Trelawney, who lives with the Ludlams at Windswept Farms. Her fleece is destined for many a great thing, including center stage in the artists book I'm planning to begin after I finish my current book project.

she's lovely, yes? I've never seen such a clean uncoated fleece. Never, never. Of course, I'm sure it doesn't help that most of my fleece buying has been carried out over ebay. I hope I've learned why not to buy over ebay, but I won't lie; I'm sure there will be fleeces in the future that are too tempting to not bid on, and then I will curse myself when I open a box of manure covered fleece filled with more VM than is worth my time.

Tomorrow I'm taking a break from flicking locks in order to bind a few more copies of Lace Stories. There are lots of great exhibition opportunities whose deadlines are coming in October, and I'd like to be ready sooner rather than later!

Monday, September 15, 2008

And the madness begins

It's September, which means I've got less than two months until the Southeast Animal Fiber Fair and the Kentuck Folk Arts Festival to prepare my wares, and finally, I feel like I'm making some progress. I celebrated my reunion with my drum carder last night by braving insomnia and carding the first arts and crafts batts I'll be offering for sale at SAFF. It was cathartic, and left me with these three lovelies.
I used generous portions of silk with natural neps, merino, bfl, alpaca, and pretty much anything else I could find lying around my studio. The batt in the center is my absolute favorite; it's base is indigo-dyed BFL. Everything I carder into this fiber just added to the batt's depth and texture. I am so tempted to spin it into some yarn for myself, but I am determined to save it for the fiber fair.
I've been working hard at scouring fleeces and planning for massive dye days, one of which will be happening tomorrow. I'm going to attempt to dye a few pounds of fiber with cochineal and walnut. I'm excited about having the new colors I'll have to play with once it's all dry.

Aside from SAFF prep, I've also started the Olympian task of making paper for my next book. Last week, I spent five days preparing pulp and pulling 200 sheets of paper. I chose to work with cotton and flax, and the resulting paper was well worth the effort.
I dried in spurs, so it's got a lovely watercolor texture, and it's a creamy golden shade. It will be perfect for the linoleum block illustrations I plan to print on it. Now that I've finished this edition of paper, I'm ready to begin preparing for the endsheets, which will be made from blue linens and cottons.

As if papermaking and fiber prep aren't enough to keep me busy, I'm also teaching some bookbinding workshops at One Night Only Artique this weekend and the following weekend. This week's installment will be on Saturday the 21st at 9:00 in the morning. We'll be making a limp leather journal with only the most basic of bookbinding tools. Next week I'll be teaching a two-day workshop on the secret Belgian import. In order to make myself seem all official, I've made a flyer for the latter event. I'm distributing as many of these as possible; I'd love to teach a full class!

I'm excited to see who enrolls in the classes, and if these are successful, Tuscaloosa can look forward to many more like it. This is especially true since the formation of the Why Knot Fiber and Book Collective, a group myself, fiber artist Beth of Whorlingtides, and Librarian Sara of PetuniaLu, recently founded. My bookbinding classes are some of the first we will offer under the umbrella of Why Knot Fiber and Book. I'm excited about what we'll be able to accomplish as a collective!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Alabama Llama and other news

I'm back! After three months working for tips and bringing book arts to the lovely people of the Connecticut shoreline, I've returned to Alabama. Which means, of course, that I'm preparing myself for even more book and fiber art activity than ever. It's time to begin work on a new book and gather my stength in preparation for the late fall fairs and festivals that I'll be attending. But enough about the good things that are about to happen; I want to write about my recent visit to a Llama farm in northwest Alabama and the bags upon bags of wool I returned with.

One of my friends discovered Cozy Cove Farm when she was gifted with a bit of wool from one of the farm's animals. She certainly made an incredible find, as Cozy Cove is a gorgeous expanse of pastures and barns populated by over 60 Llama!

We decided to visit Cozette and her Llamas on Labor Day. I can't think of a better way to celebrate a day of no work. We arrived at the farm a little after 11:00 in the morning and just in time the "help" Cozette put up her geldling Llamas in their barn. We caused more than a little chaos as we bumbled about, but eventually everyone made it safely to their appropriate barn.

The next place on our tour was the female Llama barn. I've never seen more Llama in one place before. They milled about, taking turns standing in front of a giant fan. They loved the cool air. They did not, however, love us. Nobody spit or kicked, but very few of them were inclined to approach us, let alone allow us to pet them. Cozette made the rounds, reaching her arm behind the back of a Llama's neck, and encouraging it to be a bit more social. After that demo, we were a little more successful in our attempt to actually pet a Llama.

Cozette pointed out the different types of Llama she has, some bolivian and chilean, and super-soft suri Llama, and shiny silky Llama. They were all gorgeous.

After our visit with the animals, we chatted with Cozette, who's a lovely person. She had bags and bags of Llama wool she couldn't figure out how to get rid of. Now that we've gotten hold of her, I think she'll be getting a lot more active on the fiber arts front!

Speaking of the fiber arts front, I'll be attending the southeast animal fiber fair as part of a collective in Asheville this October. Check back soon for previews of my wares.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

we make the paper

Yesterday I taught my second art lesson at the park and rec sponsored summer camp. Since our goal is to have a handmade book by the end of our six weeks together, and we've already covered paste paper, I decided we should move on to papermaking.

I made everything from the moulds and deckles to the pulp itself for this workshop. I didn't, however, have to do everything alone. My cousin Sarah came over to assist me with preparation and with the workshop itself. We spent the entire morning running blender load after blender load of pulp. By the time we were finished, we had beaten a pound and a half of dry fiber, and we had one tired blender.

After last week's chaotic whirlwind of a lesson, I expected this week to be similar and prepared myself for an onslaught of chatty kids and flying pulp. What I got instead was a group of kids quietly focused on the task of making paper. We spent the entire session quietly (relative to last week) pulling sheets and talking about the history of and approaches to making paper.

We pulled sheets of plain pulp, and then the girls wanted to get a little artistic, so we began adding hydrangea flowers into the pulp. They loved the effect so much that they began plucking flowers from the vat and pressing them into the surface of their newly formed sheets. Let me tell you, tween girls are very particular about positioning flowers on handmade paper. Some of them labored over their creations until the sheet was almost too dry to successfully couch. Fortunately, however, after the first two sheets, we had no problems with couching at all.

Even cleanup was painless. Some of my students, as they bent over the pulp container making pulp balls, told me they were having fun. I couldn't have asked for a more enthusiastic group.

This week I also taught a paste paper workshop for autistic summer campers. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of their beautiful work, but they had so much fun that next week I'll be returning to teach them some single sheet book structures. We'll be transforming their paste papers into some sweet little codex-style booklets, and if I'm brave enough, we might even attempt a flexagon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

beer & wool

I opted out of waiting tables tonight in favor of an entire day off, something I haven't had in a while. To celebrate my day off, I decided it was about time to visit the lovely Connecticut Yarn and Wool Company and partake in some fill-a-bag fun. Ahem, I mean, get that hank of yarn my little sister requested.

As always, the porch was furnished with several large storage tubs filled with yarns. I managed to pick up ten hanks of Andy's Merino (which are destined to become felted Christmas stockings for the family), five hanks of three-ply merino (three of which I will use to knit a tomten jacket), and two and a half hanks of cotton blossom, which I'll be using to make a set of face cloths for my new bathroom.

I could have happily returned home with just my yarn, but after having a pleasant lunch with my little brother at the Paperback, we decided to check out the new liquor store down the street. It was a classy shop, with more microbrews than I've seen in a long time. Almost immediately, I spotted a half-gallon jug of Opa Opa Brewery rasberry wheat beer, and I had to get it. Not only is the jug an amazing container, but the brewery is pretty local (Southampton, MA). I had a glass while making dinner tonight, and I really like it. It's got a crisp flavor, and the raspberry adds just a bit of sweetness. Once I've finished drinking all the delicious brew, I'll save the jug to store homemade laundry detergent.

The best thing about today's outing is that I got to spoil myself and count it as work completed towards my 101 in 1001. I am so on top of it (or at least capable of deluding myself into thinking I am).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

neverending socks

Approximately one year ago, I purchased a skein of SWTC's tofutsies from a yarn shop in New Haven. It languished in my yarn stash until this past Febraury, when I acquired Favorite Socks, and decided it was time for me to get in some quality sock knitting. I started at a swift pace; one day after casting on for the first sock, I was nearly ready to begin the heel. However, I did not continue at this speed for very long. In fact, I slacked off so much that I didn't even finish sock number one until the end of May. And now, as the middle of July approaches, I am finally almost finished.

I don't know why it's taken me so long to complete this project; they've been fun to knit, the lace pattern is easy to memorize, and I love my harmony wood dpns. It might have something to do with how splitty this yarn is. I've had to practice extra vigilance while knitting in order to avoid the dreaded errant loops (and there are still a couple here and there), and I think I might be over knitting one sock and then the other. This last realization pains me. At the beginning of this year, I shelled out for a whole set of harmony dpns, and it would be such a shame to let them languish in their plastic sleeve. However, in the interest of actually finishing my sock projects, they might enter into an early semi-retirement. That is, as soon as I finish the baudelaires I've recntly started (I just couldn't wait a few more days to cast on!)

Despite my slow sock knitting pace, I have been getting other things done. Today was my first day of teaching book arts to summer camp kids. We made paste paper, and they loved it, depsite the fact that we ran out of paste in a record 45 minutes. I made six times the original recipe, and was convinced I'd be taking home extra, but oh, no. The kids were paste-happy. It probably didn't help that one of them was eating it because, as he told me, "It tastes really good!" Sure, cooked wheat starch is my idea of a tasty snack, too.

And for all you ravelers, my last book, Lace Stories, is featured in the latest edition of This Week in Ravelry. (Hello new ravelry visitors!)
In a bit, I'll post a copy of the story for the uninitiated to read.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

finally! I've finished something important!

That's right, I do sometimes get around to completing important tasks, like beginning to work on enclosures for Lace Stories. I'd been waiting for some commercial yarn and walnut hulls with which to dye it before beginning the last (and probably longest) phase of binding my book. But the other day, it occurred to me that I had just the right handspun.

A couple of months ago, I ordered several pounds of brown sheep mill ends, and the browns that they send me were a lovely color. I spun some up and was dismayed with how scratchy the stuff was, and dismissed it. Sure, this yarn isn't great for garments, but books don't itch! And thus, Lace Stories (um, one of them) is no longer naked.

I've also finally completed some of the title plaquettes. I'm happy with finished product; I've gotten pretty good at hand-embroidering my writing. In fact, I'm a little freaked out by the fact that the embroidery looks like my handwriting. I did it freehand, after all. I'm sure that hands have a memory for how they draft letters, but I'm surprised by how much it affects my stitching. The movements, after all, seem pretty different.

I think the enclosure is a great compliment to the book. Here they are, finally united!

Monday, June 23, 2008

my love affair with secret belgians

I've found a new book structure to love. And oh do I love it. It's based on an unusual sixteenth-century binding that Hedi Kyle (a book arts goddess on all accounts) is said to have rediscovered.

I'm glad she did, because there's something about this structure that elevates it from utilitarian object to functional art. I think it's got to do with how the covers and spine piece enclose the textblock, and the straight lines and angles that march from the book's tail to head.

The secret belgian model that drove me to make my own belongs to Margaret Couch Cogswell, who's currently and artist in residence at the Penland School of Craft. She was kind enough to let me photocopy her binding instructions, which originate from a Paper Book Intensive workshop that Emily Martin taught years ago. I'm amazed that I hadn't seen a secret belgian until my trip to penland; it's such and engaging structure. Or maybe my taste in handbound books is a little wonky. Whatever the case, I'll be making a lot of secret belgians in the coming weeks.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

the spinning and the knitting

Clearly my fiber obsession has hijacked the blog, but it's summer, and I need to order more supplies. Being all out of book cloth and paper means that I can't really do much anyhow. So until I place an order on monday, I'm savoring the fiber.

It's been a few months now since I started spinning, and although I already have a lot of finished yarn, I've been reluctant to knit with any of it. Mostly, all I want to do is pet and squish my handspun stash and then spin some more to ensure that all those hanks don't get lonely. But last week, I decided it was time to test out the goods. I've been anxious to knit a baby surprise jacket, and the superwash merino I spun from a gifted roving seemed perfect. My decision to use size 7 needles was a little arbitrary; the chosen yarn was not a consistent weight. nevertheless, I loved knitting my own handspun.

Once I managed to complete a few garter ridges, I just wanted to knit and watch as my sweater grew. The handspun really was a pleasing match for this garment. Sadly, I was about 65 yards short of having enough yarn, so I improvised with some chocolatey-brown silky tweed that I'd been saving for a sweater project. It's rustic look made it a great compliment to the handspun.

Now I just need to finish seaming, weave in ends, and find exactly the right buttons.

I also finished a few new hanks of handspun, including a sport weight that I'm very proud of.

I love the rustic look of this yarn, as well as it's colors. This was my first attempt at handpainting and then steaming my roving instead of kettle dyeing, and it turned out beautifully.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

alpacas among us

On Tuesday my sister and I made a grueling trek to the alpaca farm closest to my parents' home. We had to traverse steep hills, cross rivers, and make countless left-hand turns, but after three miles of traveling the rough terrain that is route 145, we finally made it. Our destination did not look like an Alpaca farm from the front; it was a large cape cod with picture windows overlooking a small gravel driveway and neatly trimmed patch of front lawn. I was convinced we had parked in some unsuspecting person's driveway, so we sat in the car for a few minutes, debating whether we should knock on the door or turn around and spare ourselves from an embarrassing encounter with a non-alpaca farmer.
We did decide to get out of the car, and as we neared the front door, I could see a few alpaca, freshly shorn, grazing in the back yard. This was indeed Saltaire Alpacas. After Pattey's (the farm's owner) son let us in the front door, we waited in a living room full of fiber (and an ashford traditional spinning wheel just like the one I have at home) until Pattey emerged to take us on our tour.
Saltaire Alpacas is not a huge farm, in fact, it's more of a very large backyard that's been converted to small pastures with a few shelters. Despite it's small appearance, the alpaca had plenty of room to frolic, graze, and do whatever it is that alpaca love to do. We met a number of the herd ... rather, they deigned to sniff at us occasionally. But to offset the adults' standoffishness, we did have a close encounter with the season's first cria, a little apricot-white male who had not yet received his name.
After visiting with the herd, we did, in a sense get to pet them. Once inside the house, Pattey showed her collection of yarns spun from her herd, rovings, and my favorite, entire alpaca blankets stuffed into giant plastic bags. After inspecting every animal's fleece, and talking to Pattey about what makes a good spinning fiber, I chose two blankets to take home (a gift from my sister, who will be getting a lot of handspun as a thank-you!).

The first belongs to Thel, a true black and one of the Saltaire herdsires. His coat was so beautifully crimpy and lush that I had to take it home with me. The other blanket belongs to AJ. It's soft, soft, soft, and is a lovely light fawn color. My sister bought herself a skein of handspun, and in addition to our purchases, Pattey gave us a bag of second cuts from one of her cria and some roving from Erin, a fawn alpaca.
I spun up a skein from Erin's roving as soon as I got home, and I was in love. The roving is really well-prepared (it shed virtually nothing on my leg as I spun), and there's a bit of a reddish tinge to her coat that adds depth to the finished yarn.
Our field trip has inspired me to make the most of my time in the northeast, and visit as many fiber destinations as possible. My next stop will be the twist of fate spinnery, in Portland, CT. And this time I'll be dragging my mom along for company!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

my first meme ...

I was tagged to complete a meme, so here are my answers!

1. What was I doing ten years ago?

Ten years ago I was still haunting the halls of the frighting place we call high school. (yes, I'm still kind of a young'un), obsessed with writing, and dreaming of traveling to the Aran Islands.

2. What are five things on my to do list?

Finish my MFA! That's the first thing on my to do list.
Establish a successful enough small business centered around my bound books, printed matter, and fiber activities.
Found a community center for book/fiber arts somewhere in the southeast (that is not Asheville)
Get hitched (sorry, Z, but when people ask questions like this, I've got to respond honestly ;))
Have a garden.

3. Snacks I enjoy.

Anything with hummus, but especially good old pita. And candied pecans (they will be the death of me). And most importantly, Fudgesicles.

4. Things I would do if I were a billioniare?

Get that center for book/fiber art going. Also, I'd establish and fund a craft-based business that could employ people in an impoverished community (ala Alabama Chanin), pay off those pesky student loans, and give lots of money to rural studio (I am very much in love with Alabama). Oh, and I'd buy a house. An old one, maybe with a sweet tin roof. They're really cute!

5. Places I have lived?

Connecticut, Alabama, Ireland, and Maryland.

6. Peeps I want to know more about:


A coffee shop kind of day

Two updates in a single week is just about unheard of here at the Might Could Blog, but I'm trying to be better about giving updates on my progress. And I actually have made some progress since Tuesday. I've been working away on some new journals for the shop and for the farmer's market (erm, hopefully ...), and I'm very pleased with how they're coming out. The first batch will be finished tomorrow and ready for their glamour shots. I tried something a little different for surface design: a mix of doodling with pigment pens, staining with acrylic paints, and embroidery. We'll see how it looks when the books are completely assembled.

I got a little bit of unexpected bookbinding help today from a remarkably capable eight-year old who I met while sewing book sections at my favorite local coffee shop and eatery, The Paperback Cafe. She approached me shortly after I arrived. I think she couldn't resist the giant block of beeswax and stack of book sections. She didn't visit for very long before she moved onto another table, but a little later she was back, and full of questions. Within an hour, she was sewing book sections together almost entirely by herself. Her tension was pretty good, she loved "boning" over the sections before we added another, and she couldn't stop fondling the beeswax. I think, perhaps, another bookbinder has been born. Hopefully I'll see her at the workshops I'll be teaching at the public library this summer, and I can instill a little more love for bookbinding in her.

After my impromptu lesson, I headed over to Saybrook Yarns for their Thursday Night Knitters group. Everyone was casting on for a baby surprise jacket (which I'm working up in my own handspun). I met a lot of lovely women, got to give a few lessons on decoding the pattern directions, and met another spinner.

I should take a moment to express my love for Elizabeth Zimmermann. I certainly didn't learn to knit by reading her books, but now that I've discovered them, I'm hopelessly in love. I'm already in the throes of planning two zimmermann-esque sweater, one for myself with some lovely black silky wool, and pink farmhouse yarns silk blend I have in my stash, and one for Z. I'm thinking beaverslide dry goods worsted for his. It seems like exactly the right kind of yarn for a manly-man sweater. Oh Elizabeth, you make my heart go a-flutter!

I'm still moving forward on the spinning front, too. My new favorite yarn is might could spun in azure, which I dyed myself. I think it was a really successful yarn. It's still thick-and-thin, but that was somewhat intentional.

I love how the greens, yellows, and blues compliment one another. I will be doing some more dyeing in this colorway in the future.

I've got some lovely and fine heathered yarn on my bobbins right now. I plan on finishing a hank tomorrow, so it, too, will be going for glamour shots. And of course, it will be deserving of its very own blog post.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lace Stories

I've been terrible about the updates, really, I have, but important life things, like moving and finishing with the semester got in the way. Now I'm spending the summer with family, doing more spinning than is probably healthy, and working on a new batch of blank journals.

But I finally forced myself to take some photographs of the book I labored over all semester. Since January, I've been making moack-ups, writing and re-writing text, making loads of paper, knitting, in-designing, and printing. And I'm not even near finished. Of the 30 books in my edition I have exactly one bound. And it doesn't even have the right pastedown paper. Nevertheless, I'm one proud Mama, because Lace Stories is my best book yet. Okay, so it's only my second, but it feels like I've made a lot more ...

Without further delay, here she is:

I knit the lace panel on the front cover from impossibly fine linen I found at habu textiles (their yarns are nothing short of amazing). Nearly the entire book is composed of linen and wool if you don't count the book board and book cloth, and those cute little copper weatherstripp=-09ing nails I found to keep the lace tacked in place. I wanted the materials to refelect the subject matter, and in New England (as well as many, many other places), way back in ye olden days, linsey woolsey was the yarn of choice.

I'm really proud of how my linocuts turned out for this book. At first, I was planning to do all kinds of intricate three-color reductions, but obviously, I changed my mind. I'm glad I did, because in simplifying my imagery, it's more suggestive and it looks a bit more rustic. Also, since I'd alread printed a faint lace background on all the paper (including a lovely rainbow roll that these photos do not do justice), too many colors would have quickly turned this piece from a controlled exploration of color and pattern to a cacophony. I'd already done that with my first book, and I was ready for something else.

The one-color lace linocut is my favorite; I wanted the finished print to look like a woodcut, and I think I succeeded.

Once I actually finish a few to my liking I'll borrow the parents' nikon and make more deserving photographs, but for now all I've got is my sad little outdated, negligible megapixel camera to do the job. In fairness, she didn't do too terribly.

This week I'll be working on enclosures and embroidered title plaquettes, which I'm sure will be lovely. Oh, and I'll be spinning and finishing those blank journals. I'm such a busy girl ...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

finished book and a celebratory dyeing weekend

I've finally finished printing Lace Stories! It happened on Sunday evening, just two before the deadline. I'm pretty happy with how the printing turned out, but I'm still working out some binding issues. I promise I'll post pictures of the finished folios and the binding-in-progress tomorrow.
To celebrate being finished with all that printing, I spent the weekend with Sara, Beth, and Lark dyeing large quantities of fiber with plant dyes. Prior to this weekend, the only plant dyeing I had ever done was with walnut hulls, under the instruction of Ann Marie Kennedy. I liked how my dyed papers from that occassion turned out so much I was convinced to attempt a much more ambitious round of dyeing.
I started this weekend with about 5 and one half pounds of undyed fibers. Not any longer! Everything's been colored with cochineal, indigo, osage orange, logwood, and madder. We began at 11:00 Saturday morning with premordanting.

We chose to premordant everything with kitchen alum. It took most of the day to finish processing all of our fiber. In fact, Sara, Lark, and I all had to take home more fibers to mordant later in the evening.

Luckily, we didn't just mordant on Saturday. We got to play with some indigo, too, since it doesn't necessarily require a mordant in order to produce fast colors. I used indigo crystals from griffin dyeworks, thiox, and soda ash to make our blue pot, and it worked beautifully. I love the ease of preparation the crystals allow.

I was tempted to watch all my fiber turn from green to blue as it oxodized, but I knew Sunday would yeild lots of other dyeing opportunities. We tried several plant dyes, including logwood, which gave black, navy blue, shades of purple, and grey, osage orange, which gave a sunshine yellow, cochineal, which gave dark and light rasberry and magenta, and madder, which gave a lovely peachy-pink.

I loved seeing how each kind of fiber took the dyes ( we experimented with silk both as a fabric and as spinning fiber, wool, mohair, and cotton). The variety of colors the wool yeilded was especially striking.

In fact, I'm so excited by the wool that I'm not going to be using it for the project it was originally meant for (enclosures for Lace Stories), but for a modern log cabin blanket. I'll be dyeing more yarn with indigo and walnut hulls for the enclosures later this month!

I'm using my unspun fibers to make some yarns on my spinning wheel. I have enough silk for a few sizeable hanks of double knitting weight yarn. I'm hoping, in fact, that it's enough to make a lacey, airy summertime tank top. I plan on carding the cochineal, logwood, and indigo-dyed silk together for some interesting variegation.