Monday, September 27, 2010

Color Me Impressed

It’s been a wonderful tour. I’m waiting for my flight home (via Los Angeles) from cozy, foggy Eureka and so have a little time to tell you about an unexpected and delightful adventure last week in Washington during the Men’s Fall Knitting Retreat.


WonderMike, host of the popular Fiber Beat podcast, is the driving force behind the gathering; and one of his many strengths is finding unique outings for us. Last year, we visited the Moonshadow Alpaca Ranch in Auburn. This year, he arranged for us to try our hands at indigo dyeing at Earthues in the Ballard section of town.

Now, I have a confession to make. I went to Earthues with only the mildest curiosity about what I might see. I love to knit, obviously. I enjoy spinning, when I can get to it. But though dyeing seemed interesting in theory–I certainly have enjoyed my visits to Lorna’s Laces and admire my friend Carol’s work at Black Bunny Fibers–I had very little desire to get my own fingers into the pot.

We were advised to bring along fiber to dip, so at the last minute I casually tossed a few odd hanks of blah stash wool into the suitcase. Word was that the neighborhood around Earthues is full of interesting shops, and I figured I could prowl through them if the dye studio turned out to be a snorefest.

Once through the door, it took all of fifteen seconds for me to lose my mind and begin fantasizing about planting a guerilla dye garden in the park near my apartment.


Calling Earthues a dye studio is like calling Disneyland a kiddie pool. The company was founded by Michele Wipplinger, a visionary dyer with almost a quarter-century of experience, as a home base for her mission of promoting and supporting the worldwide use of natural dyes.

There is a retail space (as of this writing, open Monday–Friday from 1o am to 5 pm), gorgeous and beautifully stocked with naturally-dyed fiber products from around the world, including a selection of yarns and beautifully printed cottons in fat quarters. They also offer gift items, obj√©ts d’arts, and even some notions–I lucked into a beautifully carved wooden needle case and crochet hook I’ll photograph when I get home.



Beautiful light and sources of inspiration are everywhere.




We spent most of our time in the educational area with Michele’s passionate, charismatic business partner, Kathy Hattori. While Michele travels a great deal to consult and teach, Kathy keeps things buzzing in Washington State–managing the shop, fulfilling commissions, teaching classes, and–during our visit–deftly guiding 30 guy knitters through the ABCs of natural dye in one short afternoon.


I learned a lot in a hurry, including that indigo (above) looks a lot like basil and marigolds (a flower I have always detested) produce a lovely yellow dye.

It was like finding out the smelly, annoying kid across the street is secretly a concert violinist.

After our introduction, we moved into the yard where four big pots of indigo awaited. Since this was, of course, a group of guys, we were interested (and perhaps slightly disappointed) to hear that our own indigo experience would not require the use of pee.

One by one, we dipped and watched as our yarns turned from white


to green


to blue.


At the end of the day I had two skeins of yarn and one shin that were dyed several exceedingly fetching shades of deeps blue.

My assumptions that the natural palette would be limited, muddy and fugitive turned out to be utterly incorrect. Turns out you can, in fact, make brilliant and lightfast colors without recourse to petrochemicals; nor does Earthues use heavy metal mordants of any kind.



I was so impressed I went back later in the week on a free afternoon to hang out with Kathy some more. When I told her about my budding interest in quilting she showed me a fascinating project undertaken a few years back by another dyer at the shop. She had subjected a rather insipid selection of quilting cottons to systematic overdyeing in a series of natural hues.


The word "magic" is as overused these days as Lindsay Lohan's prescription drug plan, but it's the only word that seems appropriate.

Since my dream of of planting an indigo patch is likely to remain a dream, I was particularly interested to learn that in the 1990s Michele pioneered extract forms of natural dyes; they allow you to play with the process even if you aren’t ready to grind your own cochineal bugs or grow your own woad. Earthues sells the extracts in little kits and pots, and I know with fatal certainty that I’m going to have to try them out. Happily, they already sell some products online and there are plans to expand the range of Web site offerings in the near future.

If you find yourself in the Seattle area, for goodness' sake head over the Ballard Bridge (the Number 17 bus will take you there from downtown) and knock on the door at Earthues. If you care about fiber in any form, you really ought not to miss it.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I am typing this from the airport in San Francisco, waiting for the plane to Eureka for the Northcoast Knittery events. I whispered a fond goodbye to Seattle half-asleep, from the back of a taxi; but I'm not finished with it yet.

At present, with boarding imminent, I'll confine myself to a single image, caught at random on the street downtown during one of my free days.


I had more random sightings of this kind in Seattle than I've ever had anywhere else, which may help to explain why I felt so at home.

More soon.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mrs. Weber's Lace

Last night, I am pleased to report, we had a rip-snorting good time at The Fiber Gallery. The official topic was photography; but before the class one of the students, Sabrina, pulled out something she'd brought to show me.

This is Sabrina's Romanian grandmother, Regina Weber.

Mrs. Weber

When Mrs. Weber passed away earlier this year at age 87, she left behind a legacy.


Small Knitted Doilies

Some of the pieces were knitted.

Large Knitted Doily

Others were crocheted.

Arabesque Doily

Still others appeared to be–to our eyes anyhow–a mix of crochet and...tatting? Are those rings tatting, perhaps? Sabrina's not sure.

Flower Doily

Do any of you out there recognize this sort of work? Can you tell us about it?

Leaf and Flower Doily

One thing is certain: Mrs. Weber was an accomplished needlewoman. I feel lucky to have seen her work. Thank you, Sabrina!

Grape Doily

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hay Hay Hay

Greetings, my dears, from Seattle. Pardon my typing if it's a little lopsided–the Men's Fall Knitting Retreat 2010 has just adjourned, and yesterday we made merry until the wee hours at the traditional Movie Night Pajama Party.

In the aftermath, I can state with confidence that you haven't experienced Young Frankenstein to the fullest until you've heard thirty grown men sing, "Roll, roll, roll in ze hay!" in falsetto with Teri Garr.


The coming week promises to be interesting, starting with a book signing tomorrow (Monday) evening at The Fiber Gallery (7000 Greenwood Avenue North) from 5 pm–6pm, so look for a posting or two (at least) as adventures develop.

Supper is due at any moment, so I'd just like to show you this–the Sahar Stole I wrote about ages back but was only able to present in black and white as the colorway hadn't been released.

Sahar Stole

The yarn is Lorna's Laces Honor, a silk/alpaca DK in the colorway "Fjord." The pattern is available for sale via download–my first foray into that sort of thing. (You don't have to be a Ravelry member to click over, so don't be shy.)

Just been called in to supper, which means I have no time to tell you another story about the Men's Retreat and why my left shin has turned blue. Another time, perhaps.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pins and Needles, Needles and Pins

One of the side effects of having your avocation become your vocation is that you have to find another avocation. I love knitting as much as I ever did–more, if possible–but most of my projects now come with contracts and deadlines attached to them. This will, on occasion, tend to harsh one's mellow.

My alternative mellow for quite some time has been working out. It clears my head, it calms me down. If I don't get to do it for an entire day, I turn crabby and starting hitting people. Since it also makes my jeans fit better, it's productive fidgeting–which happens also to be my friend Joe's incredibly apt description of knitting.

Unfortunately, the weight room at the gym can't be kept in a pretty basket on an end table or stuffed into hand luggage. It cannot be employed to pass the time while waiting for a flight, or casually picked up when the after-dinner conversation lulls.

But a guy has to have something to do in those restless moments when after six hours of knitting I really, truly cannot stand to look at yarn one single minute more. I was at a loss until, while sorting through files, I found my notes from a PieceWork article about my grandmother's childhood...and her quilts.

Then there was a hazy patch, and a flurry of e-mails with a friend who plays with fabric for a living, and a surprise from another friend across the sea who sent me this.

Victoria and Albert Thimble

Then another hazy patch, and last night I came to while standing at the ironing board. It seems I was pressing my first quilt block.

My First Block

It's made from men's shirts I picked up for a buck apiece at the thrift store down the block. There will be six fabrics in the finished piece, and when I looked at my pattern after laying it out, I realized I've moved progressively through all the colors in the same way I'd put together a swatch of Fair Isle.

Once a knitter, always a knitter.

Gimme Gimme Gimme

I'm piecing the quilt top by hand–it's incredibly soothing–using needles I bought at Stitches Midwest. They were imported by Bag Smith from a French needlework company called Sajou.

I had never heard of Sajou before I walked up to the Bag Smith booth. They were founded in the nineteenth century; and though the company folded in the mid-twentieth century, it has now been revived by the descendants and is producing all the old lines in their original styles.

I opened the Sajou catalogue and wanted to climb inside and stay there.

I didn't know you could still buy things like this. Embroidered cotton labels for marking household linen, or adding little tags to your work that say ATELIER or FAIT MAIN in dignified red letters. A positive fleet of albums (including the gorgeous old DMC books) stuffed with elegant, playful alphabets, borders, friezes and motifs to embroider–none of which include Sunbonnet Sue or Kountry Kitchen geese in bandannas. I want them all. Wooden mercery drawers and pin boxes, porcelain bridal thimbles, and the scissors...oh, the scissors.

Even the packaging is glorious. This is the packet of needles I bought.

Needles from Sajou

I spent fifteen minutes dithering, because there were half-a-dozen designs in the booth and they were all glorious. You should see the three or four that include spinning wheels. When the needles are used up, I'm putting it into a frame.

Now, honestly–isn't that easier on the eyes than this?

Modern Needle Packaging

Who the hell thought that was a good idea? When was it decided that the utilitarian need not be a pleasure to look at?

On a practical note, the needles are so well made they leap through fabric like dolphins playing in gentle surf.

Personal to the people in my family who always want my wish list at Christmastime: here it is. The whole site. Just pick something.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Urban Legends of Knitting No. 2

EZ Photo: T.S. Zimmermann

Franklin Goes West

I'm knitting and writing about fourteen hours a day right now, finishing up as much work as possible before I take off for what is turning out to be quite a nice little tour of the West Coast. Here are the details:

Seattle, Washington

Sept. 20, 2010: Two events at The Fiber Gallery (7000 Greenwood Avenue North). From 5 pm–6 pm: book/calendar signing. From 6 pm–9 pm, "Photographing Your Fiber." To register for the photography class, call (206) 706-4197.

Sept. 22, 2010: "Introduction to the History, Methods, and Styles of Lace Knitting" at The Weaving Works (4717 Brooklyn Avenue NE); call (206) 524-1221 for information and reservations.

Eureka, California

A whole weekend at the wonderful Northcoast Knittery (320 Second St, Ste. 1A).

Saturday, Sept. 25: "Introduction to the History, Methods and Styles of Lace Knitting" 11 am–2 pm and "Lace Edgings: Before, During and After" from 3 pm–6 pm.

Book and calendar signing to follow!

Sunday, Sept. 26: "Photographing Your Fiber" from 11 am–2 pm.

For information and to register for classes, call (707) 442-YARN (9276).

Friday, September 03, 2010