Like The Queen
Whatever happens to strike my fancy, but surely some sort of fiber content.


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Friday, May 30, 2003  

Here it is Sunday evening already and I've not posted a jot all weekend. This is because the allergy devil invaded my body on Friday. Probably been after me all week, but I developed a headache on Friday around my eyebrows. A most rare occurence, I first suspected my glasses were at fault. Alas, I woke, after a vivid dream about needing to placate my fox shaman - interesting thought there, with the dragon of a sore throat and an ear ache as well.

And so I missed a family wedding and have moped about most of the weekend. I did separate all the handpainted roving and drafted it into lovely long strips - all are wound, counted, weighed, and separated into two piles. I hesitate to begin spinning, though, because I feel so fuzzy I'm afraid I'll screw something up.

Eh. well. I can not complain. All through England I neither sprained an ankle nor sucked up some alergen. If I have to have a turn at the swollen head, I can be grateful it happened at home.

If I am up to it, you shall hear about Gravesend and Greenwich in tomorrow's post.

P.S. I have deleted all reference to perfumes and scents. Even the thought of fragrance makes me feel ill. But do take a look at the well collected information on fiber dyeing in this week's

posted by Bess | 6:18 PM


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Day 5

An outstandingly perfect day – the trip to Bath and Bradford-on-Avon.

Bath – I don’t want to admit why I am so keen to go – and I am asked frequently why – so I cavil a bit and then say “well, Jane Austen is a Bath girl” but the real reason is that I have read every one of Georgette Heyer’s wonderful Regency Romances – funny novels – funny love stories – well crafted, elegant. She is the only author I know who can give you the flavor of Jane Austen and yet she is obviously a 20th century writer. So – to Bath we must go. And Dennis is very excited to guide us.

A taxi at 7 takes us to the train – up to London’s Liverpool Station. Then a bus ride to Baker Street (of Holmes and Watson fame), the tube to Padding station and then a train through Swindon, past Reading to Bath. The ride is through verdant green farms with
hedgerows, sheep, little villages.

Bath is all yellow/gray stone – completely in a bowl of mountainous landscape, with the river Avon running through it.
We stay in a small area – only a block or two – visiting the Roman Baths, the Pump Room, Pultney Bridge – but it is stepping up from the street running past Sally Lunn’s House onto the square where Bath Abby stands that left me struck dumb with tears. A lurch of my heart – I could feel some powerful emotion: Glory to God, perhaps, utter reverence, joy, but wonder. I really am swept away. Inside enormous vases of lilies filled the church with fragrance. The walls are covered with stone tablets given in memory of honor. But it is the ceilings, faulted, veined, delicate, flung up high, that insisted upon hushed reverence. It is very like my praying place the way you are lifted up up up.

I buy a clutch of postcards for keeping which I did not bring today, so I can't post them till Monday.

The Pump Room and Roman Baths are to the left of the Abby. We are for the Pump Room first, for Tea and Bath Buns; not-too-sweet rolls with a lump of sugar baked in the center of the dough. BigDarling and I tasted the water – I’ve had worse, but A & D declined. A costumed gentleman will sell you a tiny glass of the sulfuric waters for 50 pence. I sip a bit of mine and he tells us how deep the aquifer is and other statistics about it while BD not only drinks all of his, but finishes off mine. I wonder if he really likes the stuff – but I must suppose he does, since he drank even worse water in Saratoga Springs and even wanted to bring jugs of it home – so he must. The fellow selling the stuff then says that when a customer drinks a full glass it is the custom for him to drink a toast to said customer – which he does with a flourish.

A trio of piano, violin and cello plays Gilbert and Sullivan tunes. BD picks up a disposable camera in the shop and we tour the roman baths – fee – L16 which was a bit more than I had bargained for. We would have passed on the tour but D insists and in the end we make the tour with headphones. Very crowded, though, for not only is it Saturday but it is cool and raining lightly. The baths are old, but for some reason, not as spectacular as the Colchester Roman evidence.

Pultney Bridge is a delight – tiny shops line the bridge – we have a sandwich or Cornish pasty – too much dough for me – dough and potato. We peek in a jeweler’s, a boating shop and a coin shop. Across the bridge is a red pillar post box, a circle and a road with regency houses. No lawns – no trees – the pavement runs from door to door.

We bypass the other Bath attractions for a side trip to Bradford-on-Avon. But what a side trip! We ride a little 2 car train through idyllic countryside, with sheep, sheared, nibbling grass - brick farm houses with brick out-buildings – often very cluttered.

The first magic stop is in Avoncliffe

where the canal goes across the river on a bridge – we even see a canal boat going across!!

Long, lean, with flat sloping roofs – you just want to take a ride! Folk are walking with us on the towpath. There are plenty of dogs to pet. It’s a gorgeous walk, less than 2 miles through Freshford, to the bridge into Bradford-on-Avon, where we are greeted first by an enormous Tithe Barn – owned by the church.

Here is a stone hillside town of stone houses growing out of the land.
One house, a well-known teahouse, looked like it was sagging into the road. A swan and a duck have nested on the mudflats at one end of the bridge. We have only 30 minutes here, or we will not be home before midnight. We do peek into a hardware store to see what is available.

I am reluctant to leave this beautiful town. The more time I spend with my precious hosts, though, the better I get to understand them. They hover, worrying, on the bridge across the tracks, while I insist upon sketching the station. I’m done in plenty of time, too.

Bath Spa Station once again I gaze, while we wait, at the beautiful church steeple hidden among the trees.
but there isn’t enough time to do more than skim in a few lines of it in my sketchbook.

Back again at Liverpool Station all restaurants are closed except Burger King – which I have stoutly vetoed from day one, along with all food American. I am drinking so much tea and snacking so, I have hardly any appetite, anyway. D seldom eats, A grazes and BD is always ready to try something. And he wants Fish and Chips again – too heavy for me.

Back in Chelmsford we walk home, A & I separate to go grocery shopping. She confesses how much she loves meat and we plan a roast pork dinner for Monday. Tonight, it is scrambled eggs and lively talk till 11! I check my email, wish Mom Happy Mother’s Day and forgo a shower to watch a wonderful British comedy – the Vicar of Dibley.

And it is to bed with me – My legs are getting used to this hiking schedule – it is a good thing too or I should grow too fat for anything I own.

posted by Bess | 2:59 PM


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We have a bathtub again so now I am realio, trulio home. We waaaaaaited and waaaaaaited for the tile fellow to come on Tuesday and Wednesday and finally BigDarling called and he said "oh! I've been trying all week to remember what I was supposed to do on Tuesday!" But he is a former cubscout of mine. I can't stay angry. and he was here last night about 9:30 and I swear the tub has never looked so good. He will come back today and re-grout. Yes. life is good. I can finally read my stitchesEast brochure because everyone knows you have to be in a state of perfect relaxation to open up that list of temptations.

I hope I can go this year but I'm so overwhelmed with surpluss of goodies right now I'm a little afraid of the market. Ahh well. that is 5 months away.

I have a series of meetings this morning that necessitates going in to work 2 hours early. I won't even try to post about England, Day 5 till lunchtime (In fact - I may not get it posted till tomorrow.) because Day 5 was the trip to Bath (Bahhhhhth) and it was a "fulfillment" trip for me. I was really the only person who wanted to go and am I glad I held out for it.

I'm knitting a tiny swatch of the large handdyed roving. There are 8 oz of it and I'm thinking that will be my first big project - I've enjoyed sampling all of them, blending colors together, trying all three rovings in one long draft - but that bright kelly green - a sort of L.L.Bean green dominates everything. I may still put it together with the mostly autumnal one because it does make an interesting bright green with lots of speckles of warm colors - and I'd have about 6 oz so I could make something nice like hat and maybe mittens, or a baby sweater for some particularly colorbold mama.

What is interesting in this swatch is the way the purple mutes and softens. It is a medium warm yellow, vivid orange/red and medium light warm purple, with bits of green and blue where colors migrated. I am thinking this yarn would go well with a rich dark brown and now the mind begins to think "thin thin yarn to knit in color stranded work on solid brown". I'll try to decide this weekend - just what do I want from this yarn. The sample is working nicely on #5 needles - looking like 5 stitches to the inch, but I know I can spin this stuff into a yarn that knits up at 6 st. to the inch without much struggle or concentration.

I'm ready for a long haul spinning session.

posted by Bess | 6:47 AM


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Wednesday, May 28, 2003  


Day 4

Feeling more normal to wake up at 6, to the music of Birds with Opinions. The birds here are much louder than songbirds at home - and they begin their chorus at first light, which is around 4 a.m. Anyway - I am fresh and ready to go to Colchester today.

We dash out on foot to the train station - maybe a mile or so and are greeted by the town crier, Tony Appleton, in full regalia - with wig and bell.

Our ticket taker, though, is an expatriate from New York . We take the train to North Colchester.

On the train there are many children, most of them look like they might be of Indian or Arab ancestry. I wonder about them, since it didn’t seem like a whole class, but when we get off the train I see it is several school classes of 8 or 9 year-olds. As we make our way off the platform I hear the teacher say “Children - take a deep breath, now. You are in the COUNTRY!" Just then the engine puffs and the scent of diesel fuel floats about us. I can’t help but laugh out loud. So many pretty children in uniforms. So many hip teens - out at night - but friendly and youth filled, looking hopeful and barely clothed.

We catch the bus to Beth Chatto’s garden after a brisk walk through town, past the Norman Castle with the moat planted in parterre beds. Its a hurry hurry dash, with BigDarling pausing to snap street scenes along the way.

The garden is in Elmstead. We walk along the highway to the entrance and are photographing almost immediately. To enter you step between Leyland Cyprus hedges, clipped like yews - maybe 10 feet high. D & A are hungry, it’s about 11:30, so we have tea and I get a Victoria Sponge - a slightly dry sponge cake, split, with a layer of jam and a thick cream filling - somewhere slightly softer than butter cream frosting - simply wicked and delicious. There is something familiar about Beth Chatto and I niggle my brain a bit but it’s not till much later that I look on my library’s web site and see that I had just bought her shade garden book for the collection!

The first part of the garden is the dry garden - beds in gravel paths, filled with plants that can take the heat without watering. It’s an impressive garden - in fact there is a book about this garden which will get added to our library collection, since in Virginia you can have a drought in the midst of 98% humidity. This is where the tea house is.

At the main house is a kiosk for tickets. You walk down shady steps to magnificent English grass. A series of ponds dot the little curve of a mini-valley all filled with aquatic plants - not an enormous variety, nor even exotic - familiar plants, but in great quantity. Huge beds surround trees, the land slopes to shady beds with more of that velvet grass. There is a shade garden with enormous plantings of forget-me-not, Solomon’s seal, geraniums... Now and then a clump of peonies - some single poppies, all orange.

Off in the woods you can see the carpet of wild bluebells. All is so peaceful. It’s a dream garden, well designed, with a plant list that is not so vast as to be confusing or a messy hodgepodge.
Peace is the overwhelming theme. But it’s an enormous garden and it obviously requires GardenMen. A says many people volunteer there and I am sure they are most needed. There is a plant shop as well, but I am not tempted. Thank goodness - or I should be broke before the weekend. We stroll the elegant grounds till about 2 and take tea once again before we leave.

The bus ride back to Colchester is on the top of a double decker and we’re entertained by a loud, possibly drunk, girl with her boyfriend, who is also not feeling any pain. We drive past the University of Essex and several foreign looking students get on. Right away the garrulous one begins interviewing them with inane questions. I take a good look at her. She was missing all her front teeth and looked long past any claim to youth, though perhaps under 40. She also looked just like my youngest sister B! Talk about ethnic ancestry!

Colchester is - my goodness - it is the land of Old King Cole. The following is quoted from After the Flood, by Bill Cooper
Chapter 5 History of the Early British Kings found here.

“Asclepiodotus was finally defeated and killed by the king whose name has been immortalized in the nursery rhyme, Coel (Old King Cole), who reigned from ca AD 306-309. Known in other histories as Coel Hen Godhebog, Coel founded the city of Colchester that still bears his name (Kaercolim). His daughter, Helen, was married to Constantius, a Roman Senator, who was sent to Britain as legate. He became king on Coel's death. He in turn was succeeded by his son Constantine (I), who ruled Britain from ca AD 312-37. He went on to become the famous emperor of Rome who legalised the Christian religion. Octavius (Eydaf) took the crown in Constantine's absence at Rome, ruling during the periods of ca AD 330-335 and 335-348. He revolted whilst Constantine was in Rome, and assumed the British crown. In AD 348, he was succeeded by Maximianus (Maxen Wledic), the nephew of Coel, who held the crown by virtue of that descent. He eventually left Britain to rule in Gaul and Germany, making Caradocus (Kradawc) king of the Britons in his stead in about the year AD 362. He was later assassinated in Rome (AD 375) by one of the friends of his successor but one, Gracianus. Dionotus (unnamed in the Welsh chronicle) of the kingdom of Cornwall took the crown of Britain and ruled from ca AD 375-389. Then Gracianus reigned from ca AD 389-402. He was originally sent to Britain by Maximianus to fight off an invasion of the Picts and Huns. However, upon successfully repelling the invaders he assumed the crown and ordered the murder of Maximianus. He was later himself to suffer death at the hands of an assassin.”

We tour the castle museum - the sight of Bodicca’s attack and of Roman forts, of Saxon strongholds and Norman castles bombarded by Sir Thomas Fairfax. It is old, old, old. A town of Flemish weavers, stone walls, Christian martyrs. We are swept away by the English Civil War.

After an Italian supper in a restaurant located in a small, ancient building just outside the castle, we take the historic tour. What is most thrilling? The Roman wall? That certainly is the most impressive Roman ruin since it is still a part of the town structure. The Saxon tower on the 15th century church? Perhaps. Most quaint, certainly, was the house of the sisters who wrote, among many poems for children, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. (Too bad I forget their names)
The ruins of St. Boltolph’s Priory? ahh, but it is now a hangout for homeless and perhaps addicted souls. Or was it stumbling upon the orchestra rehearsing in the ancient church that is now a cultural center. We creep inside and sit in the back pews for a bit of a listen. (and to rest my aching legs - though I would never admit that for 1,000 years!)

We’re glad to catch the train and head home. I fear our hosts are wearing out in spite of their obvious joy at sharing their home with us. Somehow we’ll have to fit in a “down time” day.

posted by Bess | 12:42 PM


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The first day back at work is so wasted and yet there always has to be a first day back. How fortunate that no really serious events occurred while I was gone. How glad I am it’s a short week.

I pulled my large painted roving a little last night, separating 2 lengths about 3 feet each, and spinning them. It’s amazing how these BRIGHT colors soften in the spinning process. My original concept when I dyed these things - an amorphous glimmer of an idea of copying the yellow and medium peach in a skein of Prism yarn I have - but adding lavender to it. What I dyed was YELLOW RED and PURPLE. What is on the bobbin is pretty yellow, lavender and a warm red - still not quite what I was thinking, but much closer. I wonder what it will look like plied.

This is such an adventure!

And last night... ahem... urm .. gulp ... I joined Weight Watchers. Let us see if I can achieve as close an effect there as I did with my dyed rovings.

Oh! and happiest news of all! LittleDarling is back in port and will be home this weekend!

posted by Bess | 7:35 AM


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Day 3

I wake up slowly, shower at last - and since it is so late we have a brunch. A and I dash out to a farm market for cheese - aged farm cheddar, pale cream colored - and fresh strawberries. The doors and windows are open at the shop and a little bird keeps flying in and pecking at a seed studded suet cake. He looks so sneaky we all have a laugh.

I still can’t get used to the traffic patterns.

After we eat we walk down town to the main library, where I am to meet the director, Graham Banister. The walk is about a mile, through a neighborhood of perfect gardens - though many people are doing renovation on either house or yard - er - garden. There is an underpass beneath a busy highway with a bike lane and a pedestrian lane. There are 4 turns with 2 additional road name changes before we reach High Street, Chelmsford - which is a main street and the start of the business district. BigDarling and I are staring at architecture every step.

High Street - that's me in the pink.

Downtown is traffic - busy for this country girl, but nothing serious - and people. We pass Mrs. Cod’s Fish and Chips and I can hear BD’s lips smack. He is promised a serving before we get home, but already I suspect there is an impresario’s flair in our host - who is counting on surprising us with treats at every step. Imagine my excitement at finding a Woolworth’s in the middle of town. This was a Mecca of delight for the 9 year old Bess, oh so many decades ago, when Daddy would come home from his 2 weeks of Army Reserve training and give us each a FIVE dollar bill. 20 weeks of savings went into a FIVE dollar bill, and this one was just for playing with - spending with reckless abandon. Mama would take us to Southside Plaza, with the first stop at Woolworth’s - where you could buy a doll, a tube of that pungent plastic goo you put on the end of a straw which you then blew into, to form a lopsided iridescent balloon. I am sure the EPA has banned the stuff by now, but it was exotic and smacked of chemistry back then. You could also get some candy, crayons, a coloring book, and jacks with that $5 and still have money left over. The floor was wooden and the candy came in bins. They are long gone now, but it’s not too hard to conjure up the scent and sensation of that magical place. I never was so rich as back then - and I never shall be.

Unfortunately, Mr. Banister is out of the building - in a meeting . This causes some true consternation - for D had made this appointment and confirmed it this week. The pride of the county is under scrutiny. Several people apologize, including his boss, a lovely woman in charge of all cultural activities in the county. In the mean time, BigDarling finds a book he had wanted to read before our vacation, A gets some information she had been looking for and all the staff is outstandingly warm and friendly - in fact, they were before it was discovered there was a scheduling mixup. We are invited to step upstairs for a “pot of tea” - and I am witness to that English conviction that a “pot of tea” will cure most anything. Mr. B is called out of his meeting and we chat libraries - their Internet computers are filtered but the county provides a wonderful computer training program with a large lab. They have 2 million books in the system with a loss of about 5% - proportionally the same as we do. I tell him my Russian patron porn story and we both have a good laugh. They charge for AV materials and I find it hard to not look disapproving - but I do make a thrust for FreePublicLibraryService - and for not distinguishing between format, title, or accessibility.

An aside here - there are NO public bathrooms in the library! Nor in the building in which the library resides. You have to leave the building and go half a block away to the public toilets. Finding bathrooms is one of my little private sleuthing projects on this trip. Perhaps it is my age - or just that the body adjusts to travel in the most embarrassing ways. I’m amazed that there are eating establishments that don’t have public restrooms - a major no no in the US. But I’m delighted that now and then you will find a little building on a street corner, that is devoted solely to this important function. Another problem I have is what to call them. A polite girl in 1950’s south was taught to ask for the "Restroom", or the "Ladies Room" - presumably because in those days there were couches in them, where the gentler sex could pause in the midst of her strenuous efforts, at least in the only public ones I ever visited - which were the ones in the big down town department stores. One might ask for the “bathroom” but never the “toilet”, evidently bathing was the lesser risqué function performed in these places. So of course, what is this necessary room called in England, but the “toilet” - even the “Public Toilet” and I have the most difficult time actually saying the word. And when I ask for a restroom I get the blankest stares. Silliest of all - everywhere on large office buildings and apartment blocks I see huge banners that say “TO LET” and my dyslexic eye skims the word, inserts the missing “I” and I see ....

hurm. well. I digress - but I’ll say here, be sure to have 20 pence pieces in Padding Station for the TO LET there costs. If you can’t find your glasses while searching through the handful of mystery coins, the 20 pence piece is the smaller of the octagonal coins.

It’s about 4 p.m. so we walk to Writtle - a lovely village reached by walking along the Can River through Central Park, then Admiral Park, then down Lawford Lane - a pre-Roman footpath, hedged by hawthorn and ancient oaks.

We come into the village quietly and stop for fish and chips, which we eat on the village green. Delicious, crisp, filling - the fat is something different from any I have ever tasted, not lard, not corn oil, not olive oil. Is it canola oil? The fields all around are full of a plant called "rape" which looks like canola and I'm told rape is grown for it's oil. A Chinese family runs the shop.

It grows cool as we eat. A circus is on the green and many families with small children walk past. Twin elfin men- suit clad - shy - with a very fat black Lab, stop to chat. Organists at the Writtle church . Their dog sat worshipping BigDarling’s chips and sweeping the grass with it’s tail.

I don't have on enough clothing for the chilling evening air, so A lends me her coat, for she was wearing 2 light jackets. D had suggested a walk through the Hylands Park but dark is on its way so instead we walk to Widford to see the church, snapping pictures all the way.

Home at last to tea and fruit salad and lively talk.

In bed by 10:30 and asleep by 11. The bed is as perfect as the first night.

posted by Bess | 7:18 AM


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Tuesday, May 27, 2003  

Today, my fiberfriends, I will begin a daily posting about my trip - with a hopeful addition of sketches, websites and photos. I will post it separately so you can skip that part if you wish - and then post any fiber news or other exalted opinions I feel like adding.

But boohoo for me - I have to go back to work just when I had decided that permanent vacation (with pay) is my preferred status.

HeyBaby is delighted to have her old drive band back on and she spun the most interesting yarns for me. I’m experimenting with the dyed rovings I made on Saturday - some singles, some plied and some multi-plied. (oooo had to sneak that one in). And the large 80 oz. roving is dry now so I will play a little with that this week too.

There are photos of the swatches I’ve knit up, but they are still buried in the camera. I’ll try once again with the cheapy digital I bought but that will have to wait till Wednesday.

I’ll admit it - I’m nervous about going back to work. I can’t remember what it is I do!

posted by Bess | 7:30 AM


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Days 1&2

Every trip begins somewhere and mine began at Dulles Airport since I had to stay there so long. Our dear cousin P drove us up there but the thought of heading into the D.C. rush hour, which runs from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. is so daunting that we told him we’d be glad to leave here at noon. He could escape the gridlock before 3 and we’d probably have more luck getting a seat together, for we’d left off buying our tickets till just the week before.

I’d called ahead to see if I could take my knitting but the voice on the other end said in shocked tones that of course knitting needles were not allowed. I wasn’t in the mood to cause any fuss. I don’t have to knit 100% of the time, but when we boarded I did ask the baggage inspectors and they all said “of course you can bring knitting”. Truth is - I never knit the whole trip except 1 round on a pair of socks to demonstrate the 2 circular technique to my hostess. I wish I hadn’t brought the stuff because my luggage was heavy enough.

Of course, the whole issue of WhatToPack is fraught with such angst. Especially when you are going into the unknown. “will I need to dress up?” “Will one pair of shoes be enough?” “What if it gets hot?” - in the end we took more than we needed, but at least not more than we could carry.

I hate the emptiness of airports these days. It used to be you’d see crowds of people rushing here and there, waiting - to say good-bye - to hug hello. Now it’s just the passengers and everything seems so staid and unthrilling. Now and then you’d get to witness a little vignette or eavesdrop on an interesting conversation, but mostly I sat sketching,

or bored, or walked around while BigDarling watched our carryon stuff.

Everyone is talking on the phone. Talk Talk Talk

The flight was long, dark, cramped and friendly so hey - 1 out of 4 ain’t bad. BigDarling was all agog to stare out the window but there was not that much to see. I will know better, next time, to let him have the window seat, though, for he was all the time leaning across me to have a look.

D, our host, greeted us with wide open arms as we made our way up from the baggage claim. A’s greeting was hardly less restrained, though we had only corresponded -never met. I think about this now - what an enormous heart she must have to open her home to 2 strangers - “yanks” at that (though we soon explained to her how it is impossible for a couple from Virginia to be “Yankees”). Everyone was excited, if the US team was also a wee bit tired.

Heathrow is so much like AIRPORTLAND I rather knew myself to be in London than felt it. Getting away from the airport reminded me of driving around Regan National, with its ramps and circles. “Roundabouts” they are called in England. But we got on our way to Beackonsfield, with its ancient buildings faced with “new” Georgian fronts. This is where Enid Blyton lived and wrote her books. Here is a trendy grocery store where A likes to shop when she’s in the city. On the way we pass signs for The Model Village. I ask what that is and we are suddenly in the land of Lilliput - with a 1/12 scale village complete with trains, ponds, mills, shops, schools - the whole of England circa 1920.

Next stop is Jordans, to see the Mayflower Barn, built from the timbers of the Mayflower after it was broken up in the 17th century. As well, there is the first Quaker meeting house in England with the grave of William Penn. It looks like a regular house, large, but not a mansion, but you arrive by strolling down a gentle hill awash with bluebells sprinkled with cowslips.

A drives, for D never did care to learn, and in the back seat I can barely hold my head up. She is as charming as D. She is also is very knowledgeable of local flora. She complains, though, that the Spanish bluebell is wiping out the native English.

Our drive takes us through Chalfont St. Giles, where is Milton’s cottage - now a museum - where he lived for a year in hiding from the plague. And where he finished Paradise Lost. The museum guide is a passionate proponent of Milton, deep in defense of his Puritan politics - which name he stoutly denies, btw, saying only that the Royalists won, so they got to write the history. heh. well. I understand how that works.

We strolled past the first of hundreds of magnificent stone churches with green dappled graveyards along the way to Milton’s Cottage. So many photos snapped - it had very old frescoes, a wonderful carved rabbit - This was a poet’s garden, fit to inspire wordy flights in anyone.

We stopped at a tea shop along the village green. I was awfully tired by then, but tired never kept me from eating. I had a ham sandwich, hot with buttered toasted brown bread. And tea, of course. I will drink no home brew while abroad, but only the local stuff.

And then to Chelmsford, with BigDarling up front, navigating us out of the city and A driving. I mostly slept and remember little of the drive.

Our hosts live in what we call a duplex, but they call a semidetached. It’s all very tidy and artistically arranged. A is quite a watercolorist (and I am to find she is just full of surprises and talents and very diffident about her gifts.) Our room is pristine and dainty without being frilly. I am in bed by 10 and sleep around the clock.

posted by Bess | 7:23 AM


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Monday, May 26, 2003  

Now and then or even more frequently, my inner me likes to reach up and grab an ankle to trip me. Evidently InnerMe doesn’t like ConciousMe to get complacent. Lately blogger has been a little difficult to use - can’t get into the template, can’t always even post, and now I can’t check the stats program to see who’s been visiting. I like this program because I can visit back - and several favorite blogs are not either listed on my blog or saved as favorites - I just got in the habit of going to bstats and then clicking on the source list.

eh. well. crumbs.

That is the sort of ENFP thing I do - fine a clever way to begin something, but never carrying it through to a useful conclusion.


Today is the last day of a glorious 24 day vacation. I have never had this much time off from work, and these weeks have been so full I haven’t missed it at all. It’ll be interesting to get back, but it does make me think about the nature of vacations.

Last year I went with friends to the beach for a vacation. Every day I woke, had a leisurely breakfast, walked a few feet to the ocean and got in the water, stayed there for several hours, literally letting the actions of the waves pummel me gently like some high paid masseuse. At noon I’d walk back to the house for lunch, take a nap, wake up and go back for another session with the fitness ocean, then supper, gentle conversation and bed by 9:00. I did this for 7 days and at the end I was completely rested, mellow, relaxed, and in a perfect frame of mind to jump back in to work.

This year I not only traveled, but also filled my world with drawing, seeing, fiber, friends, reading, even shopping! Every day was cram jammed with activity - mental as well as physical. And I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to have to give my brain to anything except my personal interests.

I think I need a vacation!

(here I wish I had one of those laughing smilies)

As for my dyed rovings - oh! oh! they are gloriously fun to play with. I am so glad I have Deb Menz’s Color in Spinning to help me see what I can do with these rainbows. I’m sorry to say that this book is out of print and if you don’t have a copy of it, do try to see if your library can get it for you. If, as I did, you fall in love with it, do contact Interweave Press and ask them to reprint it. In the mean time, you can buy Menz’s videos on fiber dyeing and preparation. Victorian Video’s have them. They are exellent - in fact, many of the techniques in the book are covered in the videos - but not the color theory and formula parts. There are other good books on color theory but it’s nice to have all the info in one book.

The large 8 oz roving I dyed on Saturday is still not dry. (Well, nothing in my world is dry right now - for it’s rained hard every day since I’ve been home.) It is far more colorful than the smaller painted pieces. This one was dyed by pouring color on the fiber while it was in the vinegar water. The colors moved a lot more in that water bath. I am agog to spin some of it but I will just have to wait.

A frustrating thing for me has been how clumsy my spinning has been ever since I changed the drive band. I haven’t been able to spin a consistent, even, yarn once. So yesterday I put the old band back on the wheel and right away things felt better. The first band is a stiff fiber - it came with HeyBaby and I wonder if it is a linen band. The second one is cotton, thicker, spongier, and it is possible to untie it. I never cut the old band, but just unhooked it and looped it around the upright that holds the drive wheel. Whatever the reason, my spinning is vastly improved since I switched back. So - if HeyBaby wants the old band, then HeyBaby gets it.

And so it goes. The world is so full of such wonderful things, you’d think we’d all be as happy as kings.

posted by Bess | 6:38 AM


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Sunday, May 25, 2003  

It's been raining absolutely cats and dogs today. My photos aren't ready yet and I can't get in to change the template so no new site of the week. What I have been doing is spinning up painted rovings. This is fun on a grand scale. I've split them thin and thinner and thinnest of all, spun some separately and combined a warm toned and cool toned random roving to get more speckled green than autumnal stripes. The only trouble now is - I want more colors.

posted by Bess | 7:31 PM


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Hanging in the bathroom is a wall of color now - not the messed up bathroom, btw, but the little one downstairs. the whole shower rod is draped with the fruits of my Random Roving Dye class from Stony Mountain Fibers.

The class was small, just Jen and me, and while I am always glad to meet new fiber fiends, there’s something to be said for three gals, who are already friends, just messing about with color. Barbara Gentry’s studio is my dream playland. Nestled in among the garden and tucked beneath trees, it’s light, airy, roomy, full of things I want to touch, with a great view out of any window. And there is a whole room for dyeing. Washing machine, double sink, bathtub, trestle tables, double cooking setup with pots big enough to bathe in. (hmmm - lots of bath references - my edges are fraying). The first time I met her, when I bought HeyBaby, she looked so full of an inner peace, I commented that she must love her life. The wattage on her smile cranked a notch higher when she said yes, she was.

Barbara recommended the Twisted Sisters book, which I had read and fallen in love with, and even said they put into words the very way she liked to go about dyeing - with spontaneity and intuition getting the main emphasis while scientific precision is given due respect, but not fanatical obedience. I’ll admit, the Virgo in me likes the idea of scientific precision, with little notebooks and charts and sample posters and vials with labels on them. Unfortunately, the ENFP in me means that I’m likely to buy all the stuff and use them twice before abandoning my intentions to slapdashery.

Barbara had everything ready for us. We used ProChem wash fast acid dyes - only 8 colors, the primaries in warm and cool tones plus navy and black. And what a rainbow we produced. and what surprises too. Jen’s red took over her camo colors while the turquoise in my purple separated around the edges transitioning into a green when it crept into the yellow places.

Dyeing is a fairly logical process - although the world of color mixing is so vast you could spend a lifetime exploring it. But the wisdom of a teacher can not be overemphasized. Important tips Barbara taught us as we moved through the day:

· one drop of black can make yellow into gold
· test your color ideas with drops of color on a white paper towel - or better yet - onto a silk cap or hankie
· keep your water temperatures the same
· don’t poke at your wool
· be ready for surprises

We dyed one 8 oz length of Merino roving using the pour method. Both Jen and I were sure the colors would run into each other and become mud but though we both got surprises, we neither of us got mud! It seems that the color gets into properly prepared wool fast - it is setting it there permanently that requires the 1 hour of cooking - so if you wait about 5 minutes between adding colors, you will get some blending where two colors meet, but not mud. as long as you don’t stir!!

We then painted two yard lengths of prepared roving with squeeze bottles. These were wrapped in plastic food wrap and steamed for 30 minutes - a shorter process than the pour method. Both of us were pretty heavy handed with our colors. We kept wanting to make sure all the white got colored. What we learned was that a little white between the colors is good. If you wait about 30 minutes before steaming, you’ll actually see the color move into the white places.

I’ll admit - my skill level at color blending is somewhere around 60’s tie dyeing colors - everything is BOLD and VIVID and CONTRASTING. I also know, though, from spinning vivid colored silk, that these noisy colors calm down a bit when you spin them. Which I shall do today, since I just checked and the smaller lengths are dry. Yippee! When something is done I’ll post pictures.

We also pick up the photos of the trip today - all 390 of them. so I will begin my travelogue either today or tomorrow morning.

I could get used to this vacation stuff - why can’t I have Life Off With Pay?

posted by Bess | 9:39 AM


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Friday, May 23, 2003  

About an hour before we left, 2 weeks ago, BigDarling scraped off all the caulking around the bathtub. It had grown rather disgustingly discolored. While he worked, the fear was confirmed, that some of the tiles were loose. So he pried them off the wall as well, (who can fathom the activities of He-Who-Waits-To-Leave?) and left a message for the local tile setter. Of course, He never has gotten back in touch, and now MOI, the bath lady, doesn’t have a tub.

This is not a good thing. Bath therapy is one of my sanity tricks. Oh, we have a shower downstairs, but that is not the same. Besides, this is not a cleanliness thing. It goes far deeper than skin. In order for me to function properly, I need total immersion. It must be the ancient Roman in me.

A dozen phone calls later and we have the promise of a visit by a man who used to be one of my cub scouts. Now - what is the world coming to when you have to hire a cub scout to fix the tiles around your bathtub?! (Rhetorical question, we all know the world is coming to nursing homes.) It also means that LittleDarling turned 27 this month.

It will be interesting to see what he can come up with for repair tiles since the original ones were discontinued odd lot boxes my sister bought at auction in 1970 to use in her own bathroom. 1960’s colors, if you read between those lines. We installed them one long summer evening about 1980.

BigDarling had been building this house since March 1978 - working every day after he got home, till the light failed. That dogged determination and ability to come to completion is one of his most impressive characteristics. One of his more flighty ones is a certain reluctance to read all the instructions before picking up hammer, screwdriver, saw, or trowel.

Because these were odd lots we had to do some sort of design and since it was late at night (after 9, for me) I was not very creative. We settled on a checkerboard of random colors alternating with plain white tiles, of which we had an almost unlimited quantity. I handed the selected tile while BigDarling applied mastic and set it. He was not exactly tidy with the glue and before long the entire tub was spattered with sticky globs. When asked if they ought not be wiped up immediately I was assured “No No there’s no need for that. I’ll clean it all up at the end.” It was way into the wee dawn hours when we finally finished that tub enclosure and I left him to do the cleanup. I had just sunk into that portion of sleep from which waking is excruciatingly painful when some brute began to shake my shoulder and shout in my ear “wake up I need help! We have to get that mastic off the tub immediately. Help!” So, with tearing sleep-drugged muscles I crept back out to the NewHouse and helped him clean up the goo. But our tub has always had a sort of streaked look to it that never really looks clean.

Isn’t it funny the things that stick in your memory?

And the shower enclosure certainly is colorful. Not the sort of thing you want to look at if you have a hangover or the flu, but we have a curtain over most of it anyway. Unfortunately we gave away all the tiles to another friend who has her own version of a 1960’s bathroom. So it will be interesting to see what’s waiting for me when I get home today. For yes, I am going off to play with BestBelovedCousinSoulSister. No plans. Just time spent together.

And tomorrow is the fiber dyeing workshop. There may be a real fiber related topic to discuss soon.

posted by Bess | 6:12 AM


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Thursday, May 22, 2003  

Oh to be in Virginia

Coming home to a beloved place is a little like putting your skin back on. There is a stretch of arm and leg, an arching of back, a tilting of head as you reconnect with all that is deeply known and loved: the own bed; the scent on the staircase, when the weather turns warm, of whatever sweet woods which make up the treads; the vista from a window that your widening eyes take in, absorbing the entire peripheral scene - Oh, to open a cabinet and see the soft fluff of angora wound round the shaft of a spindle - the little pile of papers you took from your wallet to make it lighter, the satisfaction of the sparkling refrigerator because you had the foresight to clean it before you left - these are the things that make up a first day home after long absence. This - and sleep.

I had not realized how much nervous energy was keeping me erect while on my voyage, although I suspected an accumulation of sleeplessness would eventually catch up with me. I averaged about 6 hours of sleep per 24, on this trip, and though I would drop to sleep immediately my head touched the pillow each night, the long bright morning and the singing birds ensured that most days found me up between 5 and 5:30, sometimes as early as 4 but never later than 6.

And so - after carting 16 rolls of film to town to be developed, and stocking up on food, doing the odd bit of banking, and lugging home a post office bin full of mail, I spent the chief part of yesterday sleeping. We are still all full of England and the book list of must-reads is piled high.

At the moment we are reading Wil Durant’s Age of Reason Begins; the chapter on the English civil war called The Great Rebellion. I’ve always been a Royalist, not because I am so conservative I think the peasants should be kept in their place - but because I am enough of an artist to be horrified by the actions of the Taliban-like Roundheads with their smashing of stained glass windows, their bans on art and drama and their utterly hopeless belief in predestination. Durant, that consummate Frankophile, is not going to give the most favorable view of Cromwell, but he does his best at being unbiased and you can see the great strides that were made for the common man in this seventeenth century struggle. And of course, because the last and decisive battle of the war took place in Colechester, ancient town of the East Saxons, we are both agog with History.

And we are reading the biography of John Constable.

And I have gone over the MasterPlots summary of both the Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch - I believe I shall tackle Middlemarch first.

And in Spink’s book on Coins of England and the United Kingdom there is enough history to rivet the eyes.

And we must go to the city today and pick up a book on how to draw for I hated my limitations and lack of skill and am sure both can be improved upon with a good book and practice.

Books have been the foundation of all my love of, prejudices concerning, and curiosity about England. I have been lost in love all the way from the first Virginia History book in 4th grade, with its tale of poor Virginia Dare and Sir Walter Raleigh and his sweeping cape cast before the Queen, and the long connection between homeland and colony, not unlike the struggle of adolescence between parent and child - through those first novels - The Secret Garden, and I blush to admit, the sillier Little Lord Fauntleroy - to my heroine, Jane Eyre, and that other Jane - Austen. Later there was the fun of Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes - who doesn’t want to see a dark blustery moor with a slavering, glowing-mouthed hound looming? And what of Lorna Doone? Rob Roy? Ivanhoe? Then there are the modern popular authors, my beloved James Herriot in his Yorkshire Dales - I read that book out loud to any 10 year old making an overnight stay, always skipping first to the chapter about TrickyWoo and then going back to the sad opening chapter - Agatha Christie - R.F. Delderfield, though I will admit, I was a little disappointed in Kent, for it seemed pretty industrialized to me - Georgette Heyer, the only Regency Romance writer who can come close to J.A. (imho), and the main reason I wanted to visit Bath and the Pump Room and to taste the waters - which are satisfyingly bad. In fact, the costumed fellow dispensing glasses of the sulfurous liquid will drink a glassful each time a guest drinks one - poor fellow he did not know of BigDarling’s iron stomach - More recently I’ve walked the castle walls with Stephen of Blois painted by that queen of medieval battle scenes, Roberta Gellis (see if you can pick out the theme from the ballad Geordie in her novel The Sword and the Swan - and do ignore the trashy-novel cover, if that sort of thing puts you off. That novel and her murder mystery Masques of Gold, set in the time of the signing of the Magna Carta are as skillfully put together as you could want.

I’m pleased to report that none of these authors led me astray. The castles, cathedrals, footpaths, tea rooms, villages, shops, dogs, canals, dungeons and ballrooms are all there, just as promised by your favorite authors. Perhaps the most valuable thing one can take on a trip abroad is a vivid imagination and a rich fantasy life - the very best of traveling companions.

When the photos are developed (which won’t be till Sunday) I will begin posting daily entries from the diary, with illustrations. In the mean time I promise not to rhapsodize about England any more - unless I can’t help myself.

And on a fiberly note - I had some washed locks from the fleece Jen and I bought at MdS&W and I combed a few and carded up 2 rolags to spin on the Golding. I prefer the carded rolags better when using the drop spindle, but I’ll perform a sample on HeyBaby too, since I plan to do the actual spinning on the wheel. Beautiful beautiful yarn. And I swear I will never, never knit 2 socks on 2 needles again! working on two heel flaps for Ben’s socks. harumph. not fun.

posted by Bess | 7:24 AM


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Wednesday, May 21, 2003  

Oh to be in England

My patient friends, I am home at last, from 14 travel packed days in that womb of American culture, most particularly for a girl from Essex County, VA; the Kingdom of the East Saxons, now capitaled by Chelmsford, England.

Ahh England. I keep hearing the voice of Frank Muir from the old BBC production “My Word”. I keep seeing the green landscape - so much more civilized than my own wild world of exuberant American growth. I keep wallowing in the vision of history that rolls behind my eyelids to reach down into my heart and squeeze it like a sponge, so that it can swell with pleasure once again. There’s still a gasp in my lungs that has yet to exhale adequate words to convey even a general impression of all that I’ve experienced, much less intimate detailed descriptions.

I am somewhat undecided as to how to share my trip, whether via a new blog or some sort or daily application in these pages. I would have liked to post a daily report in situ, but two things held me back:

· We did not have a house sitter for the entire time we were gone, and this is the Internet, after all
· Though my hosts would have gladly and generously offered me daily Internet access, it seemed rude to even consider it on a daily basis. It’s always been my rule that when flesh-and-blood people are in the room, I do not log on. Besides, I was there to experience new things, savor the unknown, give attention to my surroundings.

I did keep a diary cum sketchbook, and BigDarling shot 13 rolls, plus 2 disposable camera’s worth of photos. We were truly snap-happy. Somehow I will find a way to share highlights here, while making every attempt to suppress the boredom factor.

This was our first trip either abroad or to England, though we had each done a bit of traveling before we met. Precious friends were our hosts and made sure each day offered some special English treat. As BigDarling would say, when we were asked what “tour” we were taking, “We’ll have a native guide.” The trip was a long time materializing - for we’d been invited every year for almost a decade. Time, work or money always seemed to interfere, but this year all coalesced into the perfect moment for leaping off into the unknown. I had no fixed plans beyond the desire to walk from one English village to another; there to sit down and have a cup of tea. This, my hosts provided for me on several occasions. BigDarling*, who is an historian, had a few more specific desires, but was, in fact, as willing as I to be led by experts. Fortunately, our host, D, and BigD share an avid interest in the Jamestown settlement era so all desires were fulfilled.

So I sit here, sipping my first cup of Bess’PerfectCoffee in 2 weeks, still buzzing in sensory overload. Imagine a 3 week vacation that begins with Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, climaxes with 14 days in England, makes another little peak with the Random Rovings Dye Workshop at Stony Mountain Fibers, and ends with the extra Monday holiday of Memorial Day.

Be still my heart.

And so I shall end today’s post with these single bits of fiberly, and not so fiberly, interest:

· I could take knitting onboard in Dulles but you can’t knit on British Airways when leaving Heathrow.
· I should have known I wouldn’t want to knit on my first perfectly directed trip to England anyway - there’s just too much to see.
· There are sheep in South East England, but few wool shops
· There are fabric shops everywhere, but they are for curtain fabric.
· Liberty’s of London is worth looking at as architecture - and if you have never seen it, that first surprising view of Medieval glory sandwiched in between trendy high rises is worth the trip downtown. There is almost no fabric left and the store itself has the same look of fading downtown department stores in American cities of the 1980’s.
· It is worth it to have Lunch at Liberty among the Ladies Who Lunch.
· Jordon’s Silks IS worth stopping in - if you are a silk lover as I am - but it is expensive. L50 a meter which translates to $83 for less than a yard. But oh oh oh oh oh that creamy rippling color, cast into motion by a black suited, elegantly spoken, clerk, knowledgeable of all things pertaining to a LadyOfTasteAndRefinement. A treat not to be missed.
· English food tastes rather like American food - at least, it tastes like Virginia food minus the cornmeal - and I think it has been much maligned, though my native guides assured me that it has improved vastly over the past decade.
· If you don’t choose to walk everywhere, expect to put on lots of weight. English Cream Teas are disastrous
· They are thinner over there than we are here, in general, in spite of the aforementioned English Cream Teas.
· They are particularly pleasant people.
· All men and 90% of women wear black. These people have the most somber clothes I have ever seen. I am told this is an improvement over a few years ago when 100% of everyone in London was dressed in black. It’s really a surprising thing to see.
· Teens are everywhere, self-absorbed, but polite, and pierced far beyond what I am used to seeing.
· This is not true in Oxford - at least, the pierced faces are no more familiar than I’ve seen in US college campuses.
· The flowers are as fabulous as the gardening books would lead you to believe.
· They have perfumes there that smell different from the perfumes we can buy here
· It is more expensive in England - and worse yet, since the pound is a decimal currency, you forget that L4.50 for a scone and tea is NOT close to $4.50 but more like $7.65. Back before European Union days, when traveling abroad you often paid for things in thousands of whatever the currency was. I remember buying shampoo in Italy for 27,000 lire!! No possible way to confuse the exchange rate. You have to do the math.
· It is not so much more expensive in England that you can’t have a good time on a modest travel budget.
· East or West, Home is Best. But if I am ever run out of here by sprawl, I think I would like to move to England.

More tomorrow - perhaps some sketches of my visit - but today I must reconnect with my needles, spindles, fleece and dogs.

It’s good to be back.

* Haile, Edward Wright. Jamestown Narratives: Eyewitness Accounts of the Virginia Colony. Champlain, Virginia: RoundHouse, 1998. This collection of primary sources provides an excellent look into the workings of the first English colony in North America to survive.

posted by Bess | 7:05 AM


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Tuesday, May 20, 2003  


And I'll be online tomorrow to tell you what I've been up to.

posted by Bess | 7:57 PM


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Tuesday, May 06, 2003  

In the garden this week are the dawnings of the May glory. The iris are so heavy they are falling over. Enormous yellow and purple blossoms stand or tumble like drunken soldiers behind and inside the rose beds. Some heavy old gold iris are opening for the first time and the fringe of the beautiful bi-color purple and white ones is thicker than ever before. From the roses, Therese Bugnet was my first gift - fragrant pink petals fluttering in their double ring. Othello, too, has presented me with his first blossom and the tiny pink rose which Ted’s Grandmother carried in her wedding bouquet 100 years ago has sprinkled itself against the corner of the house. Abraham Darby will open this week and by the weekend I believe the first of the peonies will reveal their secret golden centers. And beneath the dogwood a ruffled skirt of lavender colored azaleas shimmers in twilight’s slate gray coolness. How wonderful there will be guests in the house to witness this unfolding.

And so, O Best Beloved, I’m going to be off the air for a while. A combination of circumstances, all of them wonderful, will leave me silent and these pages empty. I will return, though, to spin again, the musings and meanderings, when the full moon recovers.

posted by Bess | 6:27 AM


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Monday, May 05, 2003  

Sunday was like the day after Christmas - zonked feeling but still in the holiday spirit. I pulled out all the festival purchases and looked at them, sampled a few, stored them all, tallied up the financial damage, figured out how much to transfer from savings to checking ... the usual post-festival stuff. Most of it can be stored out of sight - all except the fleece which still has that organic fragrance - not something I want to transfer to my lily of the valley scented stuff. I bought this potpourri about 5 years ago and the odor was so strong I put it in my cedar chest and even after I threw the stuff away about 2 years ago, everything stored in the chest still comes out smelling like synthetic LoV.

Rode to Fredericksburg with BigDarling, who needed some new clothes. Got plenty of knitting on my Regia sock - in fact, only 35 rows on the foot to do and the toe decreases and I can wear matching socks at last! I was still floating after Saturday’s sensory jolt - and sleepy too - so while he was in the dressing room I would put my head down on a rack, or against a wall and just let the feelings of MS&W wash over me again. Sitting slumped in a chair, with my head against the wall, I thought how cute this role reversal might look, with Wife waiting patiently while Husband tries on clothes.

Truth is, though, I can’t imagine taking BigDarling clothes shopping with me. Even seeing other women’s husbands in the clothing section of stores gives me the creeps. I feel invaded. For me buying clothes is SeriousShopping and definitely not the sort of thing you want someone with opinions sharing. Or worse - someone without opinions - someone who doesn’t understand the MysteriesOfFeminineBeauty. After all, men are just supposed to think we are perfectly heavenly and come complete with all the pieces in place - gifts of glory to enchant their lives. I don’t want any man to know my secrets.

And when I say things like this, there’s a voice in my head that asks me “well, why not?” What prompts me to be so secretive and solitary about shopping. It’s a perfectly normal activity. I don’t put on makeup when someone else is in the room either - at least, I don’t hardly. I could never do that in high school. All the girls would cluster around the mirror and primp and pose and I would lurk back against the wall. I didn’t think I was less pretty than they, nor was I going to forgo the very same behavior. But I had to do it alone. And perhaps that comes from a deep seated urge to present the finished product. Weird, for a gal who loves process and shuns completion. But when it comes to personal appearance - I want to do it once - present it finished - and then forget about it.

So I lug all my touch up make up and a hairbrush around all day and never use them. In fact, when I am in that self-improvement mode one of the first things on my BeMoreCool list is to check hair and makeup after lunch. I do it for maybe 10 days and then it’s back to “did that this morning” behavior and I think perhaps at the end of the day I look tired.

So - does that come from magazine ads? Where all the people are static, but perfect? Captured in perfection for all time. Hmmm. What is the underlying motive? What am I looking for in life? What deeply buried flaw of character wants me to emulate a magazine photograph, where the moldel has been airbrushed into perfection and the clothes are scotch taped together in back? GAAAAAA what is wrong with my brain.?!?




This meandering thought process just means I haven’t much to say. When we finished shopping we had about an hour to linger downtown along the river, at some sort of arts celebration. Then we drove out to the edge of town where BigDarling was being honored for his work with the Salvation Army at Christmas time. He’s the bicycle man. Every day for the 2 weeks before Christmas he drives 100 miles to their staging ground and puts bicycles together and does other heavy big-guy lifting sorts of things. Mostly, though, he puts together toys that come unassembled. He began doing this a few years ago and it’s redefined Christmas for him. He has always been tense at holiday time anyway, particularly now when there are no more small ones around to be thrilled in the wee gray hours of the 25th. It has been an empty blue time for him. But now he comes home bursting and bustling and glad - with funny stories and that sense that he has someone to give to who really needs his gifts. And what more could a body want at holiday time, but glad bursting smiles and that sense of beeing valuable?

The evening was the crystal blue of May. It’s warm enough to leave doors open, but the dogs are fishing in the marsh and come up completely covered with black marsh mud. If the door is open they will bound in to tell you all about their successes - then flop down on the rugs. So I am always having to chase them out and shut the doors.

Celty, the Golding spindle is ... it is a Stradivarius of spindles. It spins forever. It’s light. It’s beautiful. It is going with me on vacation.

posted by Bess | 8:06 AM


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Sunday, May 04, 2003  

Maryland Sheep and Wool

Maryland Sheep and Wool

Where does one begin? Is it even possible to put it into perspective for myself, much less to share it with others? Eh. One can but try.

A bit of history - since I love it so. Last year was my first trip to THE event, and I was recovering from some serious respiratory distress - very draggy - and had just dropped a shameful amount on yarn, because I thought I would not be able to get to MdS&W. So I wasn’t really in a spending mood. It’s a good thing, too, because it was an overwhelming experience to see so many fiber folk with gorgeous stuff to sell. I did get a spindle and some fiber, and began my journey down the thread trail, but mostly I just shivered, stared, drooled and sighed.

It was much worse this year. I knew what to expect, I had things I wanted to get, and I was with an enabling fiberfemme instead of a tenderly patient BigDarling. I also was heaps healthier with more stamina. So the damage done was far greater!

Jen, the darling, and her lovely family made me so welcome on Friday night. They fed me luscious food, enfolded me with the chaos of pre-schoolers, and gave me a cozy bed to sleep in. She and I were up at 5:30 and out the door an hour later, tooling up Highway 15 towards Maryland. If you’ve never taken 15 across the Potomac it’s a treat you owe yourself. Between tall mountain cliffs covered with deciduous growth slices the silver streak of river, complete with islands, rippling current, and this time of year, canoeists. It’s a quiet stretch of countryside that is divided by that river, with two 18th century towns on either side. Leesburg, VA and Fredrick, MD are both worth a visit. Both a little high end, mind you, but so quaint and so pretty.

We got to the fair at about 8:45 and got up front parking. They let us in too, though officially the festival opens at 9:00. As I’ve often said, it’s tough to have a booth by the front gate because so many folk don’t want to shop early when they get there and are broke when they leave. But at one early booth I saw exactly the dyed mohair locks, extremely clean I had on my ListOfThingsToBuy. 3 good sized bags of it. About a pound and a half. Only, I didn’t want to buy right away. So I just looked. Besides, they were right by the gate - surely I could pick the stuff up at lunch. Heh. You guessed it. One of the bags was sold by lunchtime. I quickly bought the rest, because by then I’d seen about 1/3 of the fair and knew there was not much in the way of multi dyed mohair locks. I knew it wasn’t enough but it was a good start.

Jen had sent me a Fair book that I had studied last week - and discovered that there was an entire Main Building that I had missed last year - I’d thought it was full of animals and had never looked inside!! Whew. Be still my heart! It was overwhelming. The main building is almost half, certainly 2/5ths of the entire shopping area. And it was there the Koigu booth was with designs to die for, and a lady with gorgeous merino/tencil blend, and another with angora bats that were like melted butter, and the best bargains of all at Little Barn Ltd where I bought, for $12, one pound of beautiful cotton pencil roving in natural colors of brown, tan and cream. I had no intention of buying cotton pencil roving but who could resist? And he generously gave away bottles of water. And he had merino top in three weights of fineness. And I wish I had arms enough to spin all the different fibers he had.

It was in the main building that I found the Golding Spindle site. I have been lusting for one of his Celtic knot spindles since last summer. Mind you, now, I have a spindle that works well enough. And the beautiful HeyBaby, my Ashford Elizabeth wheel. But the photos in the Golfing adds in SpinOff really grabbed me. And then I went to their website and began to drool. And I teased my girlfriend about how she needed one even as I lusted after one myself. And I would probably still be lusting after one if they hadn’t had a booth at the festival. Because it’s easy enough to say “well, not this month” when you are thinking about calling someone up and ordering something, and you begin adding up shipping and the long wait and you look around your stash and see you have enough of everything you could need for three years. But when you are standing in front of the prettiest, lightest, most evenly balanced, long spinning, elegantly carved cluster of spindles, when one is in your hands, when your fingers are stroking the silky smooth wood, and when fortylevendyhundred fiber enablers are whispering things like “life is short, buy spindles” and “who deserves it more” and “it wants you to take it home” - Well! I mean, really, for goodness sake! What’s a girl to do?!? (Hint - easy answer)

In the main building, also, is the corner where fleeces are sold. Jen and I pawed over them all - agreeing that the winners deserved their ribbons and wondering how we could ever use, and where we would ever store, a whole fleece - and of course, realized how much easier it would be to go halves on one. We picked a small, very clean, Corridale fleece in a mixture of gray/tan/brown colors, grown by Carol Wright in Heath Ohio. We have PLANS for that fleece too. We’re going to learn to turn those crimpy dark locks into the yarn of our dreams and we are both going to knit Ragnar, from Viking Knits, with it. Sister sweaters from the same fleece. So just you check back with us in, oh.... 2005.

Of course, in order for us to wear sister sweaters, Jen had to buy a spinning wheel and while I am as good an enabler as the next fiber nut, here I demurred - because when somebody drops that sort of $$, she has to make the lonely decision all by herself. But she had already tried out several wheels and knew what she wanted, so looking for it at a fair like this makes sense. If I had known what I was looking for a year ago, I may have been tempted as well. And she found one too - and took the plunge just before lunch.

A big part of the fun of this year’s trip was all the people I got to visit with. First were the Knitters Review Forum folk. Jen, of course, et moi, and Martha, whom we had arranged to meet at 10:30 by the competition building. We had a grand tour of all the entries; so many beautiful things, such skill, such artistry - but I will say - nobody had entered anything as magnificent as last year’s grand prize winner - a blue knitted coat in a multitude of hand spun novelty yarns. But that is mho - and I’m an admitted novelty yarn junkie. The three of us stopped by Hunt Country Yarns and I swear - Bob Kelly and his wife are miracles. They are always glad to see you and Mrs. K, who has only ever talked to me over the phone, remembered me, gave me a genuine smile of welcome, really truly, nobody could be warmer than those two. And Bob had a new spindle he’d bought from a vendor making reproduction medieval spindles. oooooo. but I had already bought Celty so I only admired, I didn’t yearn.

We dashed back to the car to drop off our loot and pick up our lunch. It’s funny - you can sometimes tell how a person is feeling just by looking at them from behind - and as we hustled back to the main gate I could see Lissa’s long red hair fanning out behind a body that showed that little tense stand one makes when one is afraid she’s missed The train, or is on the wrong block. Such hugs as we shared when we finally got through the gate! Such laughing and hugging and hugging and laughing. And suddenly there was this converging of smiling faces. I’m grinning still, remembering that happy lunch, the excitement, the plans, the laughter. The addition too, of new faces, new names - new friends.

We say often how we belong to a network of fiber folk, now that we can connect via Internet. It’s true, too, on a more spiritual level, that we are connected to all the world’s fiber people - but this time it was just so evident - so vivid - so physical. IRL I believe is the netcode. Well, lunch was very IRL.

But everybody had agenda stuff left, shopping lists, fiber lusts. So after an hour we were off again. I was a little worried, because I had only found half of one item on my list. And everywhere I looked were other things to tempt me. But at Stony Mountain Fibers I found the merino multi I was looking for and, by gum, the darn color is called “Laurel” and I hope I quit forgetting. But I also think I have enough to finish up the yarn for that sweater. I’ll do some judicious blended spinning to cover up any dyelot differences. By the way, it looks very yellow in the roving - almost a little garish - but it spins up very green with the perfect hint of autumn reds and golds. And told Barbara to look for my check in the mail along with my registration for the Random Rovings workshop. And once again it was such a treat to realize that she’s not just a nice lady who sells spinning wheels and fibers. She’s a friend.

So, with one and a half items ticked off my list I went in search of Hershey’s chocolate brown wool - which I found in a heap of lambswool in the Main Building. And on the way I found more dyed mohair locks in colors that were close enough to blend beautifully with my original purchase into mountains of fall foliage colored loopy boucle to knit into a chichi jacket for meme.

By that time my ankle was hurting a little. It was nigh on to 4 o’clock, I was frighteningly low on funds, and had also reached that point where buying was not fun - no matter how gorgeous things were. I had intended to pick up some glorious angora bats, dyed in sunshine colors - but couldn’t bring myself to spend. Nor could I buy any of the fabulous handspun, hand dyed yarns. I honestly thought I’d get out of there with a little cash till Jen and I were at the gate and realized there was still a little avenue we’d missed - and there was that lovely lady who sold angora - and you know - a girl just has to have a little angora in Her life - and her partner in the booth had those hat blocks made of heavy plastic that sold for only $25 (one can also get them from Paradise Fibers, but then, you know, one has to pay shipping).

The day was packed so full of experiences - so full of joy and friendship and happiness. It was just a perfect day. And yet, there were still so many things I didn’t try or see or do. I wish I could have watched more of the animal judging. I wish I had seen the sheep dogs in action. I think I wish I had tried that heart attack on a stick, a deep friend Hostess Twinkee. I would have loved to watch more of the auction - to have stopped by Rita Buchanan and introduced myself - to have looked at more of the books and videos available. But there were only so many hours and my body could stand only so much stimulation. Thank goodness Jen was driving half the way. I got a good long sitting rest back to her house as we wended our way through the beautiful hillside country. And BigDarling called while I was there to make sure I had had a good time and to ask if I’d pick up Texas Chilli in Fredericksburg.

So in the twilight of a beautiful May evening I scooted home to hugs and dogs and a freshly mowed lawn. Tired, happy, sated, stuffed, and stashed for at least till next year.

posted by Bess | 8:23 AM


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Friday, May 02, 2003  

The tempo of my life suddenly went from alegro to Presto! and I just didn't have time to post this morning - in fact - didn't have anything worth saying either. I head off in minutes on the first leg of the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival - meeting up with Jen at her house where I will spend the night. Lucky me. She will drive.

About the only thing left to say is Golding Spindles will be in the Main Building. I just may succumb. I'll be back on Sunday with my report.

posted by Bess | 4:24 PM


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Thursday, May 01, 2003  

I, too, received the L’Atelier catalog - surprisingly - for I don’t remember ordering it, but then, I visit lots of web sites and frequently request catalogs so I could have requested it. Besides, I'm sure I'm on lots of fiber related mailing lists.

I have to admit, I rather enjoyed looking at it. Yes, it’s organized more as a designer’s sketchbook than a catalog and they must have just looked at $ spent per person, rather than per garment when they decided to send me one, since it’s pretty far outside my budget. I will spend $100 on a sweater but probably not on a camisole. For sure I won’t buy $150 worth of buttons for any project.

But I don’t buy from the Sax 5th avenue catalog either and I thoroughly enjoy looking at it. I’m a magazine junkie. Eye candy - that’s how I sometimes feel about them. They are like the fortunes in cookies - only you have to pay for them. So when a freebie comes along, it’s a special treat.

Truth is, I never even looked at the prices in the catalog till somebody mentioned the $654 cashmere sweater. What I did do was take it to my favorite magazine spot - the bathtub - and let myself be thoroughly entertained. I liked the sketches - especially the ones of modular looking garments, little blocks of intarsia knitting that looked just right for using up stash bits. I particularly liked the sweater on page 4 - just a sketch of a squarish sweater with a scrunched down loose turtleneck. Yep. I could see myself designing my own version of that using sale bin single skein bargains. I was intrigued by the swing of the sweater sketched on page 5, but I didn’t think the knitted up version, which is the cover photo, looked as good as the sketch. I did like the embroidery embellishments on it, though, and could see myself using that idea. I’m not into ruffled hems or most of the asymmetry that’s so popular these days, so the eyes just slid past all of those, but I quite liked some of the little sleeveless tops - I’d show a lot less midriff - or a lot more, depending on how you look at things, but they were all do-able. The Noro sweater on page 12 reminded me once again that I just have to get over my prejudice about that yarn. I hate how it looks in the skein. I’m completely turned off by the black that’s mixed into every colorway. Yet all the Noro things I’ve seen knitted up look lovely. If I’m ever going to use the stuff, I’m just going to have to turn off both my senses and my emotions and knit with it on pure faith. I haven’t even been able to pick the stuff up in shops, much less buy it. I really liked the angular draped collar on the sweater on page 31. I suspect it’d be fun to play with that idea - maybe using novelty yarn for the collar and something plain for the sweater.

So, what about the $75 club membership? Whew. But still - 5 good ideas out of this issue. That’s $6.82 per issue, or $1.36 per idea. Hmmm. You see, I would probably never buy of their patterns. I’m always going to put together my own design. Even if I didn’t need to, I have another prejudice that says I have to have custom fit so I may as well design my own. It may or may not be absolutely the truth, but it is based upon the truth. So I look at magazines, catalogs, etc. for the inspiration they give me, not for the instructions. If I find 5 good ideas in any of the other knitting magazines I get I feel very pleased - satisfied - ready to renew my subscription. And they cost me $25 a year for only 4 issues which comes to $6.25 each. Not a whole lot of price difference. And for a knitting, fiber, magazine junkie, the treat of monthly designs is awfully alluring.

Well the question is moot. I don’t have $75 right now and after this weekend - this whole month, in fact, I will be paying off Visa for the rest of the summer. So even if I were to decide I want to subscribe - it will have to be in September or so. Eh. Another one of those choices I don’t have to make. But I sure am glad I somehow got on their list. Thanks L’Atelier, for the eye candy. The only kind that makes its victim (my wallet) thinner.

posted by Bess | 6:25 AM