Friday, October 23, 2009

In the Mountains and Clouds

World's-most-patient-husband and I were in the mood last week for a quick getaway and decided to take a driving vacation. I, though, was a little anxious about losing a week of spinning time. I'd just added all that new spinning fiber to my stocks at the Fall Fiber Festival and there was another much-anticipated fiber festival coming up very soon. World's-most-patient-husband, unprompted, bless his heart, said "why don't you bring along the spinning wheel?" I took him up on that one like a shot.

So we packed up and drove south through Virginia and right on out the bottom. Then we turned west and headed for the North Carolina mountains. The weather was cold and rainy; often the mountains looked something like this. But that's beautiful too, in its own way, and we were happy to be wandering. We played it by ear, deciding each day where to go the next.

We spent one night in Boone, the home of Appalachian State University, which turned out to be full of small, unexpected pleasures. It has antique shops and a crafts gallery and an honest-to-goodness old-time drugstore counter where you can sit and have a meal. It has a shoe store that also serves as a yarn shop, a combination I've certainly never seen before. It has a hundred-year-old general store full of knitted goods and hiking clothes. Having come on the trip well supplied with handknits but without anything for such wet and cold weather, I was grateful to find myself a warm waterproof jacket there.

It has an excellent cafe for breakfast and lunch called Melanie's, a little funky and full of character, with bright colors and interesting art and fifties dinette tables. Everything, but everything, there is home-made, down to the granola and the yogurt on the fresh fruit cup.

Then it was onward. The foliage was just beginning to change, and the views were occasionally breathtaking. We took a small and very scenic road that wound its way circuitously among the mountains, past Blowing Rock, a beautifully situated town with lots of shops and restaurants.

We made our way on to Asheville, a place I've always wanted to visit, but had somehow never made it to before. It turned out to be a bigger city than I pictured, a little bohemian and artsy in personality, and rich, it seems, in brewpubs. We spent an afternoon at Biltmore, the enormous mansion built by the Vanderbilts at the turn of the century. It is quite something. It's just a bit reminiscent of Versailles (though bigger!) Almost as impressive as the house are the grounds, designed by Olmstead, who is also responsible for New York's Central Park.

We wandering around afterwards in an area nearby known as Biltmore Village, where all the shops and restaurants are built in a quaint German style -- even the couple of fast-food chain outlets are in character. There we chanced upon this inviting sight: the aptly named Yarn Paradise. And what would a trip be without a little yarn-shop tourism?

But, perhaps luckily for me, it was already closed for the day. After all, I'd packed the essentials with me on the trip: four knitting projects and three batches of spinning fiber. I didn't want to chance running out.

The shop did look awfully appealing when I peered in through the leaded panes of the front door, with gorgeous sample projects, beautiful yarn displays, and what looked like a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Back in downtown Asheville, we had a top-notch dinner at a stylish spot called Posana. Oddly, it seems to be more of a coffee-shop with light food during the week and only serves dinner on a couple of nights. I get the feeling it may be a brilliant new place just on its way up. In any case, I can't stop thinking about the trout with sun-dried tomatoes and capers I had there, and the walnut cake with orange-and-tea-flavored cream. It was a happy find for us.

After a couple of nights, we turned and started working our way back toward home, searching for barbecue along the way. I realize that, ironically, I was leaving Asheville just days before people gathered there for the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair, but sometimes a near miss is what comes of impulse traveling. I will just have to put it on my list for some future visit.

Oh yes, Rastro the spinning wheel did get a work-out in several hotel rooms. With the wheel, and a duffel bag of accessories, and a giant tote bag of fiber, and a separate large knitting bag, I was quite a cumbersome traveler. But it was a lot of fun to sit and spin here and there along the way.

If I'd brought a stool and the weather had been better, I might have set it up who-knows-where. Scenic overlooks off the highway?

Maybe next trip. :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Oh, Nothing

Or, just what was that under that new shawl pin?

Oh, this, you mean? Well, why on earth didn't you say so?

Just my new Noro sweater that I've finished and am absolutely thrilled with, that's all. It's knit in Noro Silk Garden (silk, kid mohair, and lamb's wool) in color 221 on US size 9 (5.5mm) needles. It took ten 50-gram skeins -- a bag I'd bought from the Woolstock booth at the 2008 Stitches East event in Baltimore, Maryland.

It's a distant cousin of sweater number 1 in the Fall 2009 issue of Vogue Knitting, by Coralie Meslin. I borrowed the neckline and armhole shaping, but made a few changes. Just to the collar, ribbings, surface design, length, and silhouette. Nothing much.

Since every sweater needs a name, I'm calling this one Sassafras. I am so happy with this sweater, I can't even tell you. It fits beautifully, and the cut is flattering. I made it slightly a-line in shape so that it would hang instead of clinging. The colors somehow seem to go with every pair of pants in my closet. I love the drama of that big, extravagant collar.

When I got it done and sewn together, I knew I liked it, and I thought it looked pretty good. I went ahead and wore it before I had any way to fasten it. But with the overlapping fronts and collar hanging slack, it still wasn't quite what it could be. It needed a beautiful closure to reach its full potential. So I suppose I went to the Fall Fiber Festival seeking closure. :)

I really wanted to wear this sweater at the fiber festival itself, to wear my handiwork among fellow knitters. And maybe show it off, just a little, I admit. As it happened, the day was just too warm (and beautiful), so it stayed in the car. But the thing is a knitter magnet. I've worn Sassafras several times now, and wherever I go, knitters approach me and ask about it.

What more could I ask? A sweater I love to wear and get to talk to other knitters about!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

More to Love

There were a few more things I haven't mentioned yet that I really enjoyed about last weekend's Fall Fiber Festival. One big one was a chance to see a blog friend in person! (Hi, Puff :) There might have been a couple more, but Robin has moved far away, and though TheQueen was there, I didn't spot her. Most likely, my eyes were on the fiber.

Ah yes, the fiber. This year I barely visited the animal tent, the skein and garment competition or the fleeces. I had eyes only for fiber. I'm trying to be good, really I am. After all, I already have far more yarn and fiber at home than there's any sensible reason for. I've sworn off buying sock yarn until knitting down a bunch of what I already have. In fact, I've mostly sworn off buying finished yarn in general until I knit down the stocks a bit. For now, I'm buying only spinning fiber. And I'm trying to limit even that to less than replacement quantities for what I spin, knit, and use up.

I didn't do too badly. I've finished two sweaters lately, so I was able to pick out a few treasures at the festival without guilt. Let me show you what I found!

First is the deep plum-colored roving (from the last post right after the doughnuts). It's a cloudy day today, so I can't quite capture its true personality, but this is luscious stuff. It's a blend of wool, mohair, and alpaca from Karen at Avalon Springs Farm, in Mt. Airy, Maryland. She's a first-time vendor at the festival, and I'm glad I caught her while she still had a nice big bin of this fiber. I bought a sweater's worth.

There's a small twist, for me, in that it has just a bit of sparkly Firestar blended in. I have never worked with that, but I could not resist these colors. I'll be interested to see how much the sparkle shows up in the finished yarn, and I'll think carefully about what sort of a sweater it will suit.

From Pat and Steve Harder's Kid Hollow Farm in Free Union, Virginia, the source of last year's fluffy brushed mohair, I bought some wool and mohair roving in two colorways. This one is called Violet Turquoise Spot. It looks quite subtle and grayish, which is lovely in itself. But I think it will darken when spun and show more of its violet and turquoise nature.

This is the other one, Northern Lights. I seem to be stuck on the violet and turquoise theme, don't I? It also has hints, though, of a strong dark pink that isn't really showing in the picture.

I picked these out and bought a half-pound of each with the assistance of the wonderful Puff, who helps out in Pat and Steve's booth. But why only half a pound? Well, as I said, I'm trying very hard to be good. It takes me about one and a half pounds of fiber for a handspun sweater. I figured finishing two sweaters got me roughly three pounds of allowance for buying more fiber. Between the plummy roving and these, I had kept it to two and a half pounds, for extra credit.

So I went ahead and bought a couple of ounces of this combed Shetland top from The Flock Bransonas, in Staunton, Virginia, in the colorway Aurora.

I actually already had some of this. I bought one little ounce a couple of years ago to sample Shetland wool. I spun some of it laceweight on a handspindle and loved it. Last year I bought another ounce. Adding another two ounces gives me about 110g, enough for some sort of a lacey scarf or shawl.

Later, out of idle curiosity, I calculated the actual weight of yarn and fiber used in my two recent sweaters. The commercial yarn used up, it turned out, weighed less than my rule-of-thumb quantity, and that last two ounces of Shetland put me over my replacement weight. Oh, well. I blew it, but it's worth it.

My last find, thankfully not subject to my self-imposed limit, was this shawl pin of wenge wood from Knitting Notions in Nashville, Tennessee. There were dozens of them, in different domestic and exotic woods, all unique, as handcrafted things are. I loved this one, which reminds me of a chess piece.

Oh, what's that it's stuck into, you ask? Just never you mind! (I'll tell you later.)

And of course, I bought those delicious apple cider doughnuts and gobbled them on the spot. And that makes more of me to love, too. :)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On the Meadows of Montpelier

Such delights to be found.

Last weekend was the Fall Fiber Festival on the grounds of James Madison's Montpelier mansion, in Orange, Virginia. This festival has become one of my favorites. I'm not very selective, perhaps. All three of the fiber festivals I frequent are my favorite, in one way or another. But it's not a bad state of affairs, to be always enjoying a favorite, every time.

I love the drive out through Virginia's rolling countryside. World's-most-patient-husband drove with me this year, making the drive that much more enjoyable.

I love getting into the town of Orange, the excitement building as the destination nears.

I love how the tents are spread out upon the meadow, making it feel like a country fair.

I love strolling the relaxed, grassy midway, and occasionally coming upon calm, sociable animals wandering through to be admired.

I love the tents stuffed with fascinating goods for spinners and knitters and browsers of all stripes, and the many good-natured, hospitable vendors.

I love the displays and the sample skeins and the knowledge- able shoppers, judiciously evaluating their selections.

I love the sheepdogs and the shepherds, and their amazing joint skill, and the serious competitive trials unfolding alongside the festival tents throughout the day.

I love the famous cider doughnuts that I'd heard of but only found for the first time this year. (Delicious.)

I love bringing some of it home with me.