Thursday, August 02, 2012

Teaching as Competitive Sport

     Yay! The Summer Olympics are currently going on in London, and lots of happy athletes are taking home gold, silver, and bronze medals. I've spent far too much time in front of the TV or the computer, watching the coverage and knitting.
     Right on the heels of the Summer Games is the start of the school year. My first official day back is Thursday, August 16, but if I want to take advantage of the District's "Buy Back" days (basically, extra days of work for which I am paid somewhat less than my actual salary) I have to be at two day-long meetings beginning on Tuesday, August 14. The kids come back to school on Monday, August 20, and the long grind to next June begins again.
     The Olympics and the start of the school year got me thinking about the similarities between teachers and Olympic athletes. There are actually many similarities. Here's a list:

  1. Olympic athletes get up at ungodly hours to train. Teachers get up at ungodly hours to write lesson plans, prepare for the day, and grade papers.
  2. Olympic athletes give up a great many things--including personal lives--to focus on their sport. Teachers give up a great many things--including personal lives--to focus on their jobs.
  3. Olympic athletes do not make a great deal of money (unless they get lucrative endorsement contracts). Teachers do not make a great deal of money (unless they get lucrative administrative consultant contracts).
  4. Olympic athletes are scrutinized and scored on every little nuance of their performance on the playing field. Teachers are scrutinized and scored on every little nuance of their performance in the classroom.
  5. Olympic athletes spend many years and thousands of hours perfecting their sport. Teachers spend many years and thousands of hours perfecting their teaching.
  6. The best Olympic athletes learn to adapt quickly to changing circumstances (e.g., Michael Phelps' goggles breaking during the 2008 200 Butterfly Final) to minimize disrupting their performance. The best teachers learn to adapt quickly to changing circumstances (e.g., moving a classroom with 24 hours notice) to minimize disrupting the learning environment.
  7. Many Olympic athletes have a "kick": an extra bit of speed for the end of a race. Many teachers have a "kick": they use it to finish covering content in the two weeks between the end of Spring Break and the start of state-mandated testing.
  8. Olympic athletes make the difficult/impossible (e.g., a 2 1/2 inward with 2 1/2 twists off the 10-meter platform) look easy. Teachers make the difficult/impossible (e.g., Calculus) look easy.
  9. Armchair athletes around the world see an Olympic athlete perform and think, "Heck, I could do that." They can't, but they think they can. State legislators and the public see a teacher teaching and think, "Heck, I could do that." They can't, but they think they can.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Games: Olympic, Knitting, and Rules for Both

     Tick, tick, less than 24 hours, the 2012 Summer Olympics will officially start in London, England. The Games have already started, as Women's Soccer kicked off yesterday with 6 matches (and the US Women's Soccer Team won their match against France, 4-2), but the Opening Ceremonies are Friday evening and the first medals will be awarded on Saturday.
     Also starting in less than 24 hours are the 2012 Ravellenic Games. After the USOC got their collective panties in a bunch over a bunch of (primarily) women calling a good-natured online excuse to spend many hours knitting, crocheting, or spinning while watching the Olympics coverage on TV the "Ravelympics" the name had to be changed. They were the Ravelympics in 2008, when 5,600+ people completed more than 16,000 needlework projects. They were the Ravelympics in 2010 when, during the 2010 Winter Olympics, 4,151 people knitted and crocheted through all that ice dancing and curling competitions. But this time, the USOC pitched a fit and threatened the nice young couple that created and run Ravelry with lawsuits because we knitters and crocheters were, in some way, denigrating the efforts of our athletes, and hadn't coughed up millions of dollars to use their copyrighted words and images. After much hand-wringing and (I suspect) some tears, the name was changed to the Ravellenic Games, the rings left by tea and coffee mugs replaced the Olympic rings, and even the Union Jack is "not quite" the right colors, just to keep the London Olympic Committee (LOC) happy.
     I am ambivalent about this year's "competition." Some of it stems from the wrangling over the Olympics itself, from the silly and stupid rules the LOC has put into place to the controversy over the US Team's uniforms (designed by USOC sponsor Ralph Lauren) being manufactured in China. More of it seems to rise from the moderation of the group that serves as the clearinghouse for all online discussions of the Ravellenic Games. I realize that when the number of participants in an event--even an online "event" such as the Ravellenic Games--grows, there need to be more structure. However, there is no reason to be heavy-handed. There is no monetary, or even tangible prizes awarded in this event: at the most, one can download a cute little jpeg file to add as a picture on a project. But the Rule of Inverse Importance ("The less important something is in the real world, the more important it is to people that have little or no control over their real world lives.") runs wild on a project such as this, and people have actually been threatened with "disqualification" if they break one of "the rules." Disqualification? Really? Is someone going to knock on my front door and then tell me I can't knit a tea cozy or crochet an afghan during the Olympics? It's all rather silly, and as a result I have stayed in the background.
     In spite of my ambivalence, I am planning on some nice projects for the Ravellenic Games. Once again, I am a member of Team TARDIS, made up of mostly Doctor Who fans. This year, we have a good-natured competition with Team SHERlocked (made up of mostly Sherlock fans) to see which team can produce the most British-themed items during the Games. To that end, these are my projects:

  • ACE Scarf. Event: Frogging Trampoline. Basically, I'm frogging this project because the yarn isn't suitable for the design.
  • Ishbel Scarf. Event: Frogging Trampoline. Frogging another scarf out of some wonderful handpainted superwash merino/cashmere because I completely screwed up the lace.
  • Fourth Doctor Scarf. Events: WIP Wrestling & British Cricket. Finishing is the bane of my existence. This has been nearly finished for more than a year, so I'll weave in the ends, add the fringe, and call it "done."
  • Purple Tea Cozy of Sex. Events: Home Stuff Hammerthrow, Cable Steeplechase, British Cricket. As part of a challenge from Team SHERlocked, I'm making a darling cardigan tea cozy that was inspired by the purple shirt worn by Benedict Cumberpatch in the series Sherlock. I have some nice hand-dyed purple yarn just for this.
  • Much Bigger on the Inside. Events: Lace Longjump, Shawl Sailing, British Cricket. The online knitting magazine Knitty ran a wonderful pattern for a TARDIS-inspired shawl out of sock yarn earlier this year. I didn't have the requisite sock yarn, but I had a couple skeins of Lion Fisherman Wool left from a sweater, so into the dyepot it went, and I have more than enough to knit a large-scale version.
The yarns are in cakes, my needles are ready, and I've laid in a supply of snacks for the next several weeks of marathon knitting and TV. I guess I'm ready to start!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Awards Season

     Every year, from early May through late October, states, counties, and agricultural districts hold their annual fairs. The County Fair has been a time-honored summer tradition in America for more than 200 years: in 1811, Elkanah Watson of Pittsfield, Massachusetts organized the Berkshire County Fair, "...featuring a procession of 'three or four thousand animals,' a band, displays of local industries, and artisans. Watson also took careful steps to attract women by offering premiums on domestic products and by holding an annual ball." (from the Iowa State University Center for Agricultural History and Rural Studies American Agricultural History Primer) Two hundred years later, millions of Americans flock to their county and state fairs to look at the livestock, examine the quilts, check out jars of jams and pickles, bet on horse races, eat foods they never would consider consuming at home (deep-fried Oreos? Really?), and see performing acts from racing piglets and demolition derbies to major rock and country-western stars. It's summer, it's hot, and it's time for the Fair.
     Fair time is "Awards Season" for those of us who compete at local, county, and state levels. I've always been mildly obsessed by the competitions in the Domestic Arts arena (Preserved Foods; Baked Goods; Clothing & Textiles). There are people who will give me ribbons, rosettes, and cash for what I enjoy doing anyway? Sign me up! I've competed in a number of Fairs in the past 25 years, and I have a lot of awards to show for my efforts. In the kitchen is a big wrought-iron hook for hanging bills--there are more than a hundred ribbons (mostly blue) hanging off that hook. Ribbons from Los Angeles, Ventura, Solano, and Yolo county fairs; ribbons from the Dixon May Fair, a local ag district fair; and ribbons from the California State Fair. Along with the ribbons are shadow boxes full of the coveted Best of Show and Sweepstakes awards, given for the best jam, or the best jelly, or winning the most Blue Ribbons in a single fair.
     I stopped entering in the Preserved Foods and Baked Goods competitions about seven years ago, primarily because I wanted to spend my summers doing something other than making fifteen kinds of jams and jellies, or baking six different kinds of bread in one day. I decided to start focusing on the Clothing and Textiles competitions, specifically those for handspun yarns, needlework (especially crocheting and knitting), and handweaving. I had entered a little bit in the 1990s, and done "OK," but now it was time to get serious. I began entering skeins, afghans, socks, scarves, shawls, and some of my handwovens, and slowly the ribbons hook in the studio began to fill up with ribbons (mostly blue).
Ribbons from the Dixon May Fair
     This year has been a turning point. It began in May, at the Dixon May Fair, when a simple scarf woven from handpainted sock yarn took a blue ribbon for Handwoven Items and Best of Division (the May Fair does not award "Best of Show") for the Handspun/Handwoven items. I did well, but Dixon is a small ag district fair.
A mess of winners from the Marin County Fair
     Then came the Marin County Fair. I dropped off my entries in early June--some of the same items I had entered at Dixon, along with some others--missed attending the Fair completely, and didn't find out how I did until Thursday. When the woman in charge of releasing exhibits took my claim checks said, "Oh, that's your stuff," I started hyperventilating. I had good reason: along with my pile of entries (there were eight), was a pile of blue ribbons, two Special Award rosettes, and two big Best of Show rosettes. I had won nearly everything! The comments, written on the back of the entry cards, were full of compliments on my color design, my spinning, and my workmanship. I was shocked. I'm still shocked. The handpainted silk sliver I had spun and plied and despaired of winning anything won Best of Show--Handdyed Skein. The wet-spun flax singles I spun one afternoon garnered the Best of Show--Single Fiber and a Special Award from Marin Golden Threads. My lace shawl knit early this year from BFL I had spun and handpainted last year won the Bluebird Yarns Special Award (and a $50 gift certificate!). I did very, very well.
     Now I'm getting ready for the next competition: the Solano County Fair. It's a smaller fair than Marin, but is my local county fair, and the fairgrounds are minutes from home. I enter the Solano County Fair because I will go to this fair to look at the livestock, examine the quilts, check out jars of jams and pickles, eat foods I never would consider consuming at home (Corndogs! Funnel cakes!), and see how my entries fared.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Spin Journal #16:
My Little Puni

     While I was at Black Sheep, Heidi (my fiber friend and frequent partner in crime) showed me a cool trick to create the raw material for unsual variegated yarns. She had attended something called "Spindle Camp" the previous week and, while there, had seen someone take bits of different colored tops, place them in thin layers, then use a puni stick--usually used in preparing cotton for spinning--to turn them into "wool punis"--basically, rolags without the hassle of dealing with handcards. Pretty cool, and a great way to sample, I thought.
     I purchased a couple of Fantasy Fiber's "Mystery Batts" so I could have something to spin (the stuff I had brought up from the stash turned out to be that nastiest of all breeds, Crappydale). Fantasy Fiber produces these weird and wonderful batts from a mixture of fibers: mostly merino, with alpaca, mohair, angora, ramie, silk (both tussah and bombyx), silk noils, rayon, llama, and firestar/flash. Different colors are layered onto one of their big drum carders, and they sell the batts dirt-cheap (less than $1.40 an ounce), so they're a great bargain if one can find something that's a blend of desirable colors. I dug in their Bargain Bins until I found two pretty similar batts and carted them away. I don't like spinning from a long strip torn from a batt, so I pulled each strip into smaller bits, then used Heidi's trick to turn them into punis to spin. I liked what I got--a rapid change in color/texture that had the capability of becoming a tweedy yarn when plied. I managed to get one bobbin filled before I came home from Black Sheep.
     Fast forward to the Tour de Fleece. I finished spinning and plying the Llanwenog on Saturday morning, and wanted to spin long-draw as a break from the "precise" spinning of short-draw, so I pulled out the rest of the Mystery Batts and got back to work on them. I weighed everything out so I would have a pretty even distribution between bobbins, then started turning the rest of the batts into punis. Lots of punis. That done, I put on my headphones, started listening to a trashy romance novel, and began spinning.
     Sunday morning dawned and I went back to work on spinning up all those punis. My long-draw spinning isn't quite as fast as it once was, primarily because I've learned better control over the fibers. In the past two years, I've gone from spinning a heavy woolen single that plies up to a bulky 2-ply to spinning a fairly fine single that plies up to a nice sport-weight 2-ply. I'm getting a lot more yarn to the ounce, but it takes longer to spin that ounce. I finished the trashy novel, downloaded another, and kept spinning. When finished, I had four bobbins--2 full, 2 nearly full--to start plying.
     I got the first bobbin full of plying finished and wound it off in time for Sunday's midnight deadline to post pictures of my new yarn. I think it's decent--a yarn that looks like a heathery blue-gray from a distance, but reveals its rainbow of colors on closer inspection. At this point, it still needs wet-finishing (which may change/lighten the color slightly), but first I need to finish plying all those singles.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Ravatar for the Tour de Fleece.
Based on a poster by Chungkong.
Spin Journal #15:
It's Tour de Fleece Time!

     It's July (almost) and everywhere people are pulling out fiber, discussing twists per inch, and posting pictures of spindles, wheels, and yarn. That's right--it's Tour de Fleece (TdF) time again, when 5,400+ spinners on Ravelry challenge themselves to create as much yarn as they possibly can during the three weeks of the Tour de France.
     This year, I'm the Director Sportif (fancy French for "Team Captain") of Team TARDIS--spinners who also are fans of the children's TV show, Doctor Who. Being the Director doesn't involve very much work. I simply started a thread for Team TARDIS and encouraged people to sign up. Now that the TdF has started, I'll encourage them in their fibery pursuits. I also, quite accidentally, got a prize donated to the team: a 4-oz. "braid" of BFL/silk top, dyed in shades of TARDIS blue. I was going to purchase the braid as a prize from Redfish Dyeworks while I was at CNCH, but they very generously donated the braid. I returned the favor by spending the money on some gorgeous handpainted Merino/silk top, so I think everybody won.
     For my own spinning, it's quite a tidy list:
  • 50g llanwenog top
  • 114g handpainted Merino/silk top*
  • 114g handpainted Polwarth/silk top
  • 196g "Mystery Batt"
  • 220g "dyed in the wool" orange Romney top
  • 228g handpainted BFL top*
  • 500+g black Romney top
  • 518g black Jacob batts
  • 529g "Falklands" (very white Corriedale) top
My "consolation" prize: Merino/silk!
The total right now is 2,469g or about 5 1/2 pounds of fiber that will be turned into yarn before the guys riding in the Tour de France cross the finish line in Paris on July 22. The TdF is an opportunity to get some fibers spun that have been lingering: only the fibers with asterisks were purposely purchased for the TdF. The rest is from my extensive (and constantly growing) stash.
     I'm off to spend quality time with my wheel(s). I'll post updates (with pictures) during the Tour.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This year's loot
I Survived Typhoon Eugene:
Black Sheep 2012

     Once again I and about 7,000 other fiber folk made the pilgrimage to the Lane County Fairgrounds in Eugene Oregon for the Black Sheep Gathering (BSG). I've written about previous trips up to Black Sheep here and here (and, and here), so I won't bore people with the history of Black Sheep, or how wonderful the classes are, or how great the shopping is. It simply is what it is, and it is Black Sheep.
     I didn't sign up to take any classes this year: after last year's camelid-spinning caravan with Paula Shull, I was ready to focus on three days of shopping, spinning, and "power lounging." I packed my camping gear (including a brand-new canopy small enough to send as checked luggage on the train), oiled up my Louet Victoria, and went to catch the Coast Starlight on Wednesday evening with several other people from Spindles & Flyers. I probably should have been concerned when we (the Spousal Unit and I) got half-way to the Amtrak station and I realized I had left my retainer at home. I can shrug off forgetting a lot of things, but my retainer isn't one of them--I spent 17 months and several thousand dollars straightening my teeth and sorting out my bite, and I'm not going to undo all that hard work by not wearing my retainer for nearly a week. We went back to the house and I got my retainer, but we lost the time we were going to spend having a nice dinner together before I had to be at the train station. Instead, dinner was a cold, not very good sandwich from Trader Joe's. I walked into the Amtrak station and suddenly remembered the other things I had forgotten to pack: the fiber I had promised as a prize for Black Sheep Bingo and, more importantly, the fiber I had promised to a friend's daughter so she could finish a felted piece for the Fiber Arts Competition at Black Sheep. Idiot!!! The young woman I had promised the fiber to was extremely gracious and kept working on her other entry; ultimately, she took a blue ribbon for her efforts.
     We settled in on the train and the ride up was uneventful--we even arrived in Eugene ten minutes early. We were met at the train station by another Guild member who had driven up from the Bay Area (along with a local cab), so we piled all our luggage, camping gear, and spinning wheels into the vehicles, and drove over to the park behind the fairgrounds where we normally camp. I thought it was a bit odd that there was only one tent and canopy set up--last year, there had been nearly a dozen set up when we arrived--but we organized our camp, set up canopies and tents, and generally got all the camp housekeeping sorted. As we worked, it grew hotter and more humid with each passing hour, until it was nearly 80 degrees with about 95% humidity. Ugh--I wasn't dressed for humid weather. We sought refuge--and dinner--in a local pub (Hot Mama's Wings), and by the time we walked back to our camp, the temperature had dropped to a more reasonable 70 degrees. The sky had clouded up, and we knew we were in for some rain, but we were prepared, we thought.
     Friday morning dawned with threatening skies but only a few sprinkles. After a leisurely breakfast, I trotted over the vendors' halls to look at blending boards, then spent some time at the KCL Woods booth picking out a beautiful little support bowl for my supported spindles and taklis and a lovely modular Tibetan spindle. I had just enough time to carry my purchases back to camp and stow them in the tent before walking over to the Wool Show building to check out the "Back Room Beauties": fleeces that were for sale, but weren't being judged. I found two nice fleeces, both Romney/Coopworth crosses from Anna Harvey's handspinning flock, paid for both, and began lugging 17 pounds of raw fleece across the parking lot and out to the camp. Half-way there, it began to sprinkle in earnest, and I had just enough time to put the fleeces in the tent and grab my rain poncho before the skies opened up. It rained the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. I coped: I had my rain poncho, so it was easy to carry my wheel in its bag over to the indoor spinning circle, and I spent the rest of the afternoon there, taking periodic breaks for shopping forays and filling a bobbin with a mysterious blend of fibers I had gotten from Fantasy Fibers. It was too wet for almost everybody to walk to dinner, so we piled into several cars and went to Cornucopia for dinner. Dinner made up for a wet afternoon: excellent food, an incredible selection of local microbrews, and a relaxed atmosphere had all of us feeling a lot more human. If you're ever in Oregon, I recommend GoodLife's Sweet as Pacific Ale and 2 Towns Pearadise Semi-Dry Cider: both are nearly worth moving to the wet of Oregon to enjoy.
     In spite of a lovely dinner, it kept raining. It rained through our "Dessert and Brews" party. It rained through the night. At times, the wind blew. It rained so much my nylon camping tent--which has never leaked--began leaking at the seams. When we woke up on Saturday morning, it was still raining. The sun tried to come out. It kept raining. I tidied up the camp a bit, did some shopping (a lovely ebony square drop spindle from Spindlewood and more fiber), got more spinning done and, between raindrops, wandered over to the Wool Sale building in time to help set up the show fleeces for the pre-sale Viewing. It was a lovely way to see the fleeces (they were gorgeous this year) and decide that I really didn't need yet another fleece. Back to the spinning circle, got more spinning done, met a bunch more people, did a bit more shopping, and it was time for dinner. We all decided we wanted to dry out and warm up, so we went back to Cornucopia for another round of their delicious dishes and great beers, then back to camp to spend the evening under a canopy, chatting, knitting, and spinning on drop spindles.
     The rain finally stopped falling, mostly, around 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, and when the sun finally broke through the clouds, it was met with cheers and applause. The rain held off most of the day, giving everyone time to dry out tents, canopies, and tarps, and to pack everything for the train trip back to the Bay Area. After a last walk through the vendors' halls, our happy little band made its way back to the Eugene Amtrak station in plenty of time to board the Coast Starlight for Emeryville. Then we sat. And sat. And sat while (I found out later) the conductor called the Eugene police to remove several very drunk and belligerent passengers from the Observation car. Fortunately, all that sitting didn't disrupt our dinner reservations (made by our Car Attendant before we even got on the train), nor did it interfere with our gathering in the Observation car later to chat, knit, and spin, but the engineers were never able to quite make up the lost time and we arrived back in Emeryville nearly an hour later than our scheduled time.
     All in all, it was a good festival in spite of the rain. I did my share to support the vendors, and brought home so much stuff I had to stop at REI on Saturday evening to get another duffel bag for my purchases (note to self for 2013: bring empty duffel bag). I came home with:

  • 2 fleeces
  • 1 3/4 pounds assorted handpainted tops
  • 3.5 oz. pygora in assorted colors
  • 1 oz. firestar in assorted colors
  • 2 spindles (1 with 4 shafts)
  • 1 tension box for sectional warping
  • 1 Clemes & Clemes blending board
  • 1 T-shirt for this year's festival
  • 1 hat for the Spousal Unit
Postscript: I found out when I got home yesterday that much of the Oregon coast and Willamette Valley has been the victim of a stationary low pressure system since early Friday morning. It's been raining off and on (mostly "on") since Friday morning. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is forecast to be sunny and dry--for the first time since last Thursday.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

You Go Down There...

     One of my favorite westerns is a 1970s comedy starring Dustin Hoffman entitled Little Big Man. It's the life story of Jack Crabb, the only survivor of Custer's Last Stand. One of the best lines in the movie is when Custer (played by Martin Mull), questions Jack (played by Dustin Hoffman) about the possibility of the 7th Cavalry being attacked if they ride down into the valley of the Little Big Horn. Jack explains that it's an ambush, then tells Custer, "You go down there, if you've got the nerve." It's a line my friends and I have repeated to one another when we are struck by both the absurdity and futility of a course of action.
     The United States Olympic Committee (USOC), the non-profit group authorized by Congress to oversee the United States' participation in the quadrennial sports festival known as the Olympic Games, has decided that they do not like a bunch of people, overwhelmingly women, organizing to hold a good-natured "competition" for knitting, crocheting, and other fiber arts. Brett Hirsch, a wet-behind-the-ears law clerk doing a summer internship with the USOC, sent a letter to Casey Forbes, the "code monkey" and part owner of the fiber arts social media website Ravelry (the other owner is his wife, Jess) to "cease and desist" all activity, specifically the Ravelympics:

Dear Mr. Forbes, 
In March 14, 2011, my colleague, Carol Gross, corresponded with your attorney, Craig Selmach [sic], in regard to a pin listed as the “2010 Ravelympic Badge of Glory.”  At that time, she explained that the use of RAVELYMPIC infringed upon the USOC’s intellectual property rights, and you kindly removed the pin from the website.  I was hoping to close our file on this matter, but upon further review of your website, I found more infringing content. 
By way of review, the USOC is a non-profit corporation chartered by Congress to coordinate, promote and govern all international amateur athletic activities in the United States.  The USOC therefore is responsible for training, entering and underwriting U.S. Teams in the Olympic Games.  Unlike the National Olympic Committees of many other countries, the USOC does not rely on federal funding to support all of its efforts.  Therefore, in order to fulfill our responsibilities without the need for federal funding, Congress granted the USOC the exclusive right to use and control the commercial use of the word OLYMPIC a and any simulation or combination thereof in the United States, as well as the OLYMPIC SYMBOL.  See the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C. §220501 et seq. (the “Act”).  (A copy of the relevant portion of the Act is enclosed for your convenience.)  The Act prohibits the unauthorized use of the Olympic Symbol or the mark OLYMPIC and derivations thereof for any commercial purpose or for any competition, such as the one organized through your website.  See 36 U.S.C. §220506(c).  The USOC primarily relies on legitimate sponsorship fees and licensing revenues to support U.S. Olympic athletes and finance this country’s participation in the Olympic Games.  Other companies, like Nike and Ralph Lauren, have paid substantial sums for the right to use Olympic-related marks, and through their sponsorships support the U.S. Olympic Team.  Therefore, it is important that we restrict the use of Olympic marks and protect the rights of companies who financially support Team USA. (italics mine)
In addition to the protections of the Act discussed above, the USOC also owns numerous trademark registration that include the mark OLYMPIC. These marks therefore are protected under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051 et seq. Thus,’s unauthorized use of the mark OLYMPIC or derivations thereof, such as RAVELYMPICS, may constitute trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution of our famous trademarks. 
The USOC would like to settle this matter on an amicable basis. However, we must request the following actions be taken. 
1.  Changing the name of the event, the “Ravelympics.”;  The athletes of Team USA have usually spent the better part of their entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them.  For many, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of their sporting career.  Over more than a century, the Olympic Games have brought athletes around the world together to compete in an event that has come to mean much more than just a competition between the world’s best athletes.  The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony. 
The USOC is responsible for preserving the Olympic Movement and its ideals within the United States.  Part of that responsibility is to ensure that Olympic trademarks, imagery and terminology are protected and given the appropriate respect.  We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games.  In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work. (again, italics mine)
It looks as if this is the third time that the Ravelympics have been organized, each coinciding with an Olympic year (2008, 2010, and 2012).  The name Ravelympics is clearly derived from the terms “Ravelry” (the name of your website) and OLYMPICS, making RAVELYMPICS a simulation of the mark OLYMPIC tending to falsely suggest a connection to the Olympic Movement.  Thus, the use of RAVELYMPICS is prohibited by the Act.  Knowing this, we are sure that you can appreciate the need for you to re-name the event, to something like the Ravelry Games. 
1.  Removal of Olympic Symbols in patterns, projects, etc.   As stated before, the USOC receives no funding from the government to support this country’s Olympic athletes.  The USOC relies upon official licensing and sponsorship fees to raise the funds necessary to fulfill its mission. Therefore, the USOC reserves use of Olympic terminology and trademarks to our official sponsors, suppliers and licensees.  The patterns and projects featuring the Olympic Symbol on’s website are not licensed and therefore unauthorized.  The USOC respectfully asks that all such patterns and projects be removed from your site.
For your convenience, we have listed some of the patterns featuring Olympic trademarks.  However, this list should be viewed as illustrative rather than exhaustive.  The USOC requests that all patterns involving Olympic trademarks be removed from the website.  We further request that  you rename various patterns that may not feature Olympic trademarks in the design but improperly use Olympic in the pattern name.\ 
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.  We would appreciate a written reply to this letter by no later than June 19, 2012.  If you would like to discuss this matter directly, please feel free to contact me at the number above, or you may reach my colleague, Carol Gross. 
Kindest Regards, 
Brett Hirsch
Law Clerk
Office of the General Counsel
United States Olympic Committee
1 Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO 80909
     So, it seems that a bunch of women knitting and crocheting is interfering with the money-making proclivities of a bunch of big multi-national corporations like BP, Dow Chemical, VISA, Coca-Cola, and McDonalds. Really? I had no idea that my buying wool upset the oil and chemical industries so much. I'm actually rather pleased and proud if I am, but for some reason, I don't think they're even aware I exist.
     I'm particularly incensed over Mr. Hirsch's assertion that we of the fiber arts community are in some way denigrating the nature of the Olympic Games, and are disrespectful to US athletes. I would like to point out several things to the very grand Mr. Hirsch (who is younger than some of my stash):

  1. The purpose of the Olympic Games is to foster better understanding between nations through the use of amateur sport. It is not a 2 1/2-week infomercial for a bunch of corporations looking to make yet another buck.
  2. I've spent the best part of the past 50 years perfecting my work with needle, hook, wheel, loom, and dyepot. What gives you the right to denigrate what I do as something that is disrespectful to, say, BMX bicycle riders (a sport which, by the way, my younger brothers helped to create).
     My advice to Mr. Hirsch and the USOC: You go down there. There are millions of irate people with pointy sticks who can and will plaster this issue all over the Internet and organize a boycott of your precious sponsors. You go down there, if you have the nerve.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Geek Alert: I Have a New Toy

     I can be a tremendous geek at times. I waste far too much time at the computer, and when I hear about a new widget or gadget, I want to try it out and play with it. The new toy: a widget that announces how much (or how little) I've spun.
     For those wondering what a widget is, it's basically a little bit of HTML code that can be inserted into a web page that links to another page that feeds data back to the first page. The first widget I played with extensively was the KnitMeter, a little widget that announced how much one had knit (or later, crocheted) during a month. I started listing my knitting projects in March 2009 and, for about 14 months, was very good about updating how much I had knit on each project. Then I stopped.
     A couple weeks ago, someone on Ravelry (the source of another widget) mentioned that there was now a version of the KnitMeter for spinners. I checked it out this morning and it's pretty cool! I added the SpinMeter to my profile page on Ravelry, and this evening added it to my blog--it's over there, on the right. I figured out which yarns I had spun so far this year, added them to the SpinMeter, and that number is the number of yards of finished yarn I've produced.
     And that's where the "complication" comes in. That pretty large number is the number of finished yarns--usually 2-ply--that I've spun. The amount of yarn I've actually spun is that amount, plus about 10% (to account for shrinkage that occurs when plying and when wet-finishing), multiplied by the number of plies  (usually 2) plus the plying run itself. The formula works out like this

X = Y x .10 x 3

with Y as the finished length and X as the total number of yards. Using that formula, the 3,811 yards I've spun this year translates to 12,576.3 yards of fiber running through my fingers and onto bobbins on one of my wheels. Just the singles, joined end to end, would stretch more than 4 3/4 miles. That's a lot of spinning, especially as it has all been done in the past three months.
     So the new toy should keep me on my toes, or keep my toes on the treadles. Right now I've finished spinning 4.1 oz. of very pretty Romeldale that needs to be plied, and I filled one bobbin of the silver Bond ram/Cotwold hogget blend this morning at my guild meeting. Tomorrow or Tuesday will be a marathon plying session (I need to empty bobbins prior to leaving for the Black Sheep Gathering), and then the amount on the SpinMeter should jump again.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Merino fleece from Nebo Rock Textiles
Falling Off the Fiber Wagon

     The first two Saturdays in June are normally the two big spinners' picnics in Northern California. I went to both this year (I think I missed both last year), and came home with some unexpected purchases.
     The first of the spinners' picnics was the 12th Spinning at the Winery, organized by the Treadles to Threads guild in the Martinez/Concord/Walnut Creek area. The picnic is held at the Retzlaff Winery in Livermore, under the trees in their picnic area. Lots of shade, soft green grass under foot, an overwhelming potluck lunch, and lots of shopping are the hallmarks of this very popular picnic. This year was no exception: nearly 200 spinners came to spin, eat, talk, and shop. I was doing pretty well--I found a darling little Turkish spindle to add to my collection of drop spindles that I don't use--and then I walked by Nebo Rock Textile's booth full of beautiful merino fleeces. No, I really don't need another merino fleece: I already have 4 1/2 pounds of black merino pindraft that was a Nebo Rock fleece several years ago, and another 4 pounds of silver Nebo Rock merino that is still waiting for me to comb or card it. On the other hand, I don't have any white merino, and there was a beautiful 4 1/2-pound white merino, just waiting for me to buy it. I resisted mightily for several hours, but finally succumbed to the lure of beautiful white locks and pulled out my checkbook. Once the fleece was mine, I walked it across the picnic area to Morro Fleece Works' booth, just stopping long enough to put my contact information and the instructions "Take to pin-draft." on the back of the sales card, before handing it to Shari. This fleece is off to be professionally washed, carded, and turned into luscious pin-draft, and won't be back in my hands for 4 to 5 months, so I can focus on spinning some of what I already have.
     The second spinners' picnic was yesterday at Westside Farm, on the bank of the Russian River west of Windsor. This one, put on by Sonoma County Fiber Trails, is smaller but frequently features smaller woolgrowers than are normally found at the larger fiber festivals. Again, it was well-attended, with an abundant potluck buffet of salads and desserts, and the shopping was prime. I spent most of the day focusing on turning some dyed Romeldale top into a fine single, but took a break to check out was was available. Sue Gustafson of Four Oaks Farm was there with some nice blue-faced Leicester (BFL) fleeces at an excellent price. How could I resist? After all, a BFL is a little sheep that produces a little (2 1/2 pound) fleece, and I had just finished spinning a fleece, so I have room for another fleece to take its place. I'll process the BFL myself: I want to separate out the locks for washing and dyeing different colors, then I'll comb and color blend the locks for a beautiful yarn.
BFL Fleece from Four Oaks Farm
     I've been very good about not buying fleeces: the last time I purchased a fleece was in 2010. I do have an awful lot stashed, but I'm making progress on turning it into yarn so I think I can withstand falling off the fiber wagon once or twice.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Busy Day

I completed many tasks today. Along with getting a lot accomplished, I realized, once again, that the first rule of getting things done is to Stay Away From The Computer. As a result, I've been offline all day, but look at what's done:

  • Plied 2 bobbins of silk for Marin County Fair entry.
  • Went out for breakfast.
  • Went to Home Depot for the paint to finally paint the siding.
  • Went to Lowe's for gardening supplies (they didn't have them).
  • Went to Mid-City Nursery for gardening supplies (success!)
  • Purchased the sprinklers needed to handwater the gardens.
  • Purchased the peat pots I needed to start my weld seeds.
  • Weeded the herb garden.
  • Watered everything.
  • Plied the rest of the Romney/Coopworth I spun last week.
  • Wet-finished the silk 2-ply (see above).
  • Weeded the big flower bed.
  • Wove the second linen huck towel.
  • Had dinner.
  • Cut the linen huck towels off the loom and wet-finished them.
  • Cleaned the studio.
  • Photographed all my CNCH purchases.
  • Updated my stash and project notes.
  • Wrote a blog entry.
I think that's enough for today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dixon May Fair

     I did it--I entered in the Dixon May Fair for the first time since 2005. Last time, I entered a bunch of home-preserved foods (jams, jellies, pickles, etc.) and walked away with a fist full of ribbons and two of the coveted rosettes for Best of Division and Best of Division--Third Place.
     This year was fiber arts entries. I entered

  • 2 skeins--1 a Merino/Cormo blend and 1 a Llama/Wool/Yak/Firestar blend
  • 2 shawlettes knit from handspun
  • 1 handwoven kitchen towel
  • 1 handwoven scarf featuring a handpainted weft

     I didn't go to the Dixon May Fair so I had no idea what, if any, ribbons I won until I arrived to pick up my entries on Monday afternoon. I nearly fell over when I presented my claim checks and the woman superivising the entry release said, "Oh yes--you have all the handspun with the ribbons." There was a ribbon on everything, and that big burgundy rosette for Best of Division right on top! The rosette was for the handwoven scarf; the blue ribbons were for the handwoven scarf, the kitchen towel, one of the shawlettes, and the skein of llama blend; the red (2nd place) ribbons were for the other shawlette and the skein of Merino/Cormo. Ironically, I beat myself--the person winning 1st place in the categories I won 2nd place was me.
     All in all, finding I did so well at the Dixon May Fair made for a nice end to a less-than-spectacular day. Next up: entering the Marin County Fair.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Economics of Wool

     I have managed to run afoul of the world of hobby spinners: I dared to criticize. Publicly.
     This is the exchange that took place on a spinning-related discussion board on the popular fiber arts website, Ravelry (I'm changing the respondents' names):

Me (in response to a beautiful picture of a washed Blue-Faced Leicester (BFL) lock): love (1,000). My new mantra: I am NOT buying a BFL fleece at Black Sheep...I am NOT buying a BFL fleece at Black Sheep...

Respondent #1: You totally will.... Don't lie like that!

Respondent #2: I would never make such a foolish statement... :-)

Me: It's easier than you might think: I look at the price per pound for a really good fleece, and once I've picked myself back up off the floor, I'm able to walk away. I'm waiting for the price of BFL to fall through the floor the way alpaca has in the past year. Meanwhile, I've got merino, cormo, merino-corrie, corrie, and my beloved Border Leicester/Corriedale/Merino fleeces to keep my busy. ETA:...along with a Romney, a Border Leicester, a Cotswold, and a Jacob I really should spin, just to get the boxes of fleece emptied out...

Respondent #3: If the price falls through the floor, some of our dear shepherds will be forced out of the fleece business. That makes me too sad to think about!

Me: Those "dear shepherds" that go out of business because the price adjusts to market pressure on the supply side should probably reconsider agriculture as an occupation. It's a business, just like selling anything else, and is subject to the laws of supply and demand.

     There it is, in black and white: I had the unmitigated gall to suggest that the price of something might be subject to the laws of supply and demand. I quickly had a mailbox full of flaming responses, accusing me of nearly everything except killing puppies and kittens, and questioning my expertise as a spinner. The general theme seems to be that: a) I have no idea what I'm talking about because buying raw fleece is always better than buying commercially-processed top; b) that without the financial support of handspinners paying a fortune for raw fleeces, spinners' flocks (those flocks raised specifically for the handspinning market) will disappear; and c) I am evil for even suggesting that the price for the fleece off a dear little BFL might be too expensive.
     OK, time for an economics lesson. The basic rules of supply of demand:
1. As price goes down, demand goes up. This is normally plotted on a demand curve as a line that goes down as it moves to the right.
2. As price goes up, supply goes up. This is normally plotted on a demand curve as a line that goes up as it moves to the right.
3. The price point where supply meets demand is known as the "equilibrium price."
     The way the free market works, price is always trying to meet that equilibrium price. Individual sellers that set a price too high are losing money because they have excess supply; sellers that set a price too low are losing money because their demand is outstripping their supply. That's how the free market system functions.
     Right now, the equilibrium price for skirted raw fleece is $12-20 per pound, unwashed weight. It has been at that price for nearly five years, primarily because that's the price where demand seems to meet supply. The primary reason for this is the total cost to the buyer of the fiber. In 2009, I purchased a gloriously beautiful blue ribbon-winning black merino fleece. The raw fleece tipped the scales at 7.4 pounds and cost me $133.20. I sent this fleece out for processing into roving: about $10 to mail the fleece to the processor and about $100 to have the fleece washed, carded, and turned into pin-draft. The total weight of the pin-draft I got back was 4.4 pounds. Total cost for this fleece: $243.20, or $55.27 a pound. I don't begrudge a penny of the money I spent--it's wonderful fiber and I'm getting many hours of entertainment and pleasure out of spinning it. I merely am using this fleece to illustrate why many farmers aren't able to get more than about $20 a pound for raw fleece.
     At that price, a high-quality merino fleece (which typically weighs about 8-12 pounds) is worth from $96-240, depending on quality, color, and size. If the average merino sheep costs about $100-125 a year to keep, getting a really nice, big fleece off the critter will turn a tidy profit for the farmer. By comparison, a BFL is a little sheep: a typical fleece is only a couple pounds. At $75 a year for upkeep, farmers lose money on every single fleece. Their alternatives: charge more than the market can bear for the fleece with the hope of recouping more of their costs and run the risk of decreasing demand; cover the production costs in other ways, from diversifying to other crops (raise other kinds of sheep, animals, or crops) to teaching spinning and weaving classes; or breed bigger sheep that throw bigger, high-quality fleeces. Perhaps a bit more attention to sheep genetics (which is already being done by several woolgrowers in the West) can make the economics of wool pencil out a bit better.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Mini-Skein Madness

     Every once in a while, I get the bug to do something different. Frequently, it starts off with somebody saying, "I will if you will..." and usually ends with me getting into some type of "trouble." Nothing illegal or dangerous, but it definitely will eat up some of my time when I should be doing something else.
     This time, it was a mini-skein swap. What's that? Basically, it's rather like a fiber arts exchange, but involves small quantities--usually 5 to 10 grams--of yarn. This one was a DIY hand-dyed yarn exchange between 20 people. The "rules" were pretty simple: Dye enough sock yarn to create 20 5g mini-skeins, label them all, then send them to the exchange coordinator, along with the usual Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope. Once all the mini-skeins are received (the "due date" for this exchange is May 17th), the coordinator will send everyone one each of the 20 different batches of mini-skeins. Send 20 identical mini-skeins out, get 20 different mini-skeins back. Piece of cake!
     I agreed to participate, then checked the stash for available sock yarn. Oops--I only had 3 skeins of ecru Kroy left. After trying (and failing) to score more ecru Kroy, I had to rethink my original plan of knitting up a blank on my knitting machine, then dyeing it in stripes to create a variegated yarn. I decided to fall back on a tried-and-true technique for creating wildly variegated yarns: a color ball. I wound the yarns together so there would be some consistency between the mini-skeins, then dyed the yarns last Sunday after I finished washing the black Shetland (see the previous post for more on that).
     It takes 18 yards of sock yarn to make a 6g mini-skein. I measured and wound, and twisted the mini-skeins with my tiny half-yard niddy-noddy, then carefully taped a pretty little label on each. I also found time to knit a mitered square swatch from some of the extra yarn, just so everyone could see what the skein produced.
     The yarns went into the mail this afternoon. I'm looking forward to seeing what I get back from everyone else.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

6,000 yards of hand-dyed
11/2 Shetland wool
Dress Journal #8/
Weaving Journal #4:
Black is Beautiful

     Not much to write tonight: too tired. I retrieved the skeins out of the two dye pots this morning, washed everything, then rigged them on the new yarn blocking rig to dry under tension with 3 bottles of wine to act as the weights. I'm really rather pleased with the results: both dye lots (one in each dye pot) match, and the two skeins that were originally blue are now indistinguishable from the eight other skeins. The skeins spent the day drying, and are now safely stored away until I'm ready to begin weaving the fabric.
     I wasn't done with the dyes. I need 20 5-gram mini-skeins of hand-dyed sock yarn for a sock yarn exchange, so I dyed the "cake" (a fiberista term for a center-pull ball of yarn) in the Tiffany colorway this afternoon. It too is washed and dried, and waiting to be chopped into 5-gram bits.
     I think I've done enough dyeing for right now. The next dyeing day will be after school is out in June and I get back from the Black Sheep Gathering.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dress Journal #7/
Weaving Journal #3:
Babysitting & Other Mindless Tasks

     It is after 9:00 at night and I'm doing one of the three most boring tasks in the fiber arts world: babysitting my biggest dyepots full of yarn. Watching the temperature on the thermometer slowly climb toward 185 degrees is right up there with watching grass grow or bridges rust. It's pretty dull.
     It's been a day of not terribly exciting tasks. I started this morning with reskeining (and measuring) the 11/2 Shetland that I dyed blue last year, then skeining enough additional gray 11/2 Shetland to make 6,000 yards. Each skein is about 600 yards, and all together it accounts for just under two of the four pounds of 11/2 Shetland I have for weaving the dress fabric.
     My mind wanders a lot when I'm doing something as mindless as skeining. It is a pretty mindless task: just remember to stop when the counter hits 600. At some point around the 3,000-yard mark, I suddenly realized that there was a solution to my very limited supply of 11/2 Shetland: switch the colors. Doh! I felt like a complete idiot for not seeing it earlier. I originally looked at the draft with the idea that the warp would be black and the weft would be gray. If woven that way, more than 600 yards of black "warp" would be loom waste. I was angsting over whether or not I'd have enough, and what would happen if I didn't dye enough yarn when I suddenly remembered--this is a balanced twill draft. It doesn't matter if I swap the colors around. I can measure and chain the warp out of the gray, then if I still have yarn left, I can dump the rest of the yarn into a black dye pot so I'll have more than enough weft. I finished skeining the 6,000 yards so most of the weft is dyed; I'll dye more if I need it once the warp is on the loom.
     That little problem solved, I turned to my next task: measuring and winding a warp for linen towels. I'm planning to weave a couple "sample" towels out of the same line flax I have set aside for another set of towels, so I measured a 2 1/2 yard warp and began winding it. Warp winding is another pretty mindless task--all I need to do is remember the sequence for the cross: over and under going out, under and over coming back. I need 280 ends for towels, so it's 140 trips out and 140 trips back--I keep count by tying a piece of string around every 10 ends. Once the warp is chained, I can begin dressing the loom, but I can't do anything until the warp is wound, so I stand there in front of my warping board, wrapping yarn in a pattern around pegs.
     I end up listening to podcasts as I'm doing many of these mindless tasks. Today it was NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour--a 45-minute podcast of silliness having to do with what's going on the the world of popular culture (movies, music, comic books, etc.). Once I run out of podcasts, it's on to audiobooks; I need to check with the local library to see what's available, preferably for download. At any rate, I need something to keep my mind occupied while I do these mindless tasks.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dress Journal #6/
Weaving Journal #2:
It Takes Planning

     Nothing is simple. That's how my life works: if I can possibly make something more difficult, I probably will, simply to see if I can rise to the challenge. The new dress is the latest project that will be an opportunity to stretch myself and my skills. I may pull all my hair out in the process, but it's certainly a challenge.
     Building a costume is, most of the time, fairly cut and dried: decide on what is needed, get the fabrics, findings, and trims, then schedule a few days and cut and sew like a madwoman until it's finished. Oh, but this point, where's the challenge in that? Sew something by hand? Done that; it's boring. What will make people sit up and notice? How high can I raise the bar?
     It turns out, pretty high. I spent a good bit of time this morning considering possible colors for my new dress. Some basic observations helped me decide:

1. I need to find a color combination that doesn't make me look like the dog's breakfast, so browns and yellows are out.
2. I look terrific in purple, but that's against the rules so purple is out.
3. I'm tired of blues and greens. I already own a blue Flemish dress and a green German dress.
4. I don't want a dress that looks like everybody else's dresses.
5. All colors from natural dyestuffs go together.
6. Sheep come in colors other than white.

Solution: Gray (sheep color) and black (iron gall--a natural dyestuff) with red (cochineal--a natural dyestuff) accents. I look good in gray, especially the silvery gray of the cones of 11/2 Shetland I have set aside for weaving some fabric. Color question solved.
     I spent this afternoon digging through the stash to see what I need to build a new set of clothes. Linen for a shift? Check. Linen for linings? Check. Thread? Check. Hooks, eyes, other findings? Check. Dress fabric? Uh, uh, uh...better give that some thought and do a little research. I have the opportunity to take up the challenge of weaving a period-appropriate fabric for my new dress.
     I stumbled across the Complex Weavers' wonderful collection of medieval textile samples while searching for examples of 16th century fabrics. A lot of the fabrics are a bit too complex for this project--I'll have to weave the fabric on my big (45.5" weaving width) floor loom and I'm limited to 4 shafts. Then I found it: a broken diamond twill that can be woven on 4 shafts and is stunningly beautiful. It's also a very old draft: there are at least 25 woven examples of this draft from German archaeological digs that are dated to the Merovingian Period (400-600AD).
     It took a bit to lay out the threading draft and the tie-up, but I like the look of the drawdown. Next step: Wind a sample warp and weave a bit of the fabric to see how much I'll lose with shrinkage. Then I can calculate how much warp to dye.

The Challenges of a Fibershed

     I promised in an earlier post to give a bit more information on The Fibershed Project. Started in 2011 by Rebecca Burgess, it takes the idea of the locavore/Slow Food movements and applies them to what we wear. Rebecca is very gung-ho about this idea and is attempting to expand fiber/fabric production opportunities in the San Francisco Bay Area by working with small farmers, local designers and artists, and other interested people to build a sustainable, environmentally sensitive, socially responsible, textile industry in Northern California.
     This may be an idea whose time has come. There are precious few apparel manufacturing companies left in the US and even fewer textile mills. Even the iconic blue jeans manufactured and sold by Levi Strauss are made overseas. Moving all this stuff around uses up resources, costs money, and damages the environment in places we don't usually see. The Pearl River Delta in southern China is home to the mills that produce much of the world's denim for blue jeans; the pollution from the mills is so bad that some tributary rivers are dyed blue.
     Don't get me wrong: I am not a rabid environmentalist. I'm old enough to know that nothing is in just black and white, and that compromises are sometimes necessary to obtain the greatest good for everyone. On the other hand, I'm old enough to remember miles of beautiful Ventura and Santa Barbara county beaches spoiled by sticky black "tar" from the Santa Barbara Oil Spill in 1969. It was that oil spill that inspired the first Earth Day, which I participated in as an eighth-grader in 1970, and which has inspired me to, over the years, fight for a better environment in California for current and future generations.
     So, how does the idea of a "fibershed" fit into my life? Simple: if we can eat foods that are grown within number of miles of the house, why can't we wear clothes that are produced--from raising the fiber to sewing the finished garment--within x number of miles of the house. Can it be done? Maybe, with some compromises.

The goal:
Replace my entire wardrobe (including costumes) with locally sourced materials and labor.

The ground rules:

1. Follow the old World War II saying: "Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without." Everything that is in my wardrobe, all fabrics and findings, all fibers currently in the stash are hereby declared to be "local." I can work through my stash, but once a fabric or fiber is gone, it's gone unless I can replace it with something from a local source.

2. My fibershed has a radius of 200 miles as the crow flies. If a fiber isn't produced inside that magic circle, I can't use it. The one exception is my annual trip up to Eugene for the Black Sheep Gathering. Fibers purchased there are still considered to be "within the fibershed."

3. Barter is permissible, if it is bartering for something not produced within the magic circle. Thread, especially sewing machine thread, represents a big problem. It isn't made in Northern California. I don't think it's made in the United States. I don't have the time to sew everything I own by hand, so using a sewing machine is essential; since the sewing machine requires sewing thread, I'll need to find a way to barter for what I need.

4. Shoes are not included. Fortunately, I think I already own every pair of shoes I'll ever need.

5. At this point, all this fibershed is limited to my own wardrobe. Stephen the Long-Suffering Spouse is excused from participating.

I'll try to post regularly on my progress, to document my successes, reflect upon my failures, and to remind myself of what I'm trying to do.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Portrait of a Young Woman
by Lucas Cranach Elder (1525)
Dress Journal #5:
I Need a New Dress!

     There's nothing like a friend announcing that she and another friend are finally getting married to get me off the dime. That happened the other day, when two long-time reenacting buddies posted to Facebook that they were planning on marrying, and that the ceremony and feast would be held at the Renaissance Faire this fall. Since Michaelmas is a traditional feast day for the Guild, they picked that day for their nuptials. Needless to say, after the successful German Invasion of Southern Faire on April 22 (see an earlier post), a lot of people are planning on attending this event.
     I need a new dress. I want a new dress. I have a lovely gold chain I picked up years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It's a reproduction of a 16th century German gold "Cranach" chain necklace (see picture). It's big, it's long, it's gaudy, and I had to have it. Now I need the dress to wear with both it and a long strand of matched fresh-water pearls.
     The new dress needs to be either a German or Flemish design, from the 16th century. I'm leaning more toward the German, but my "persona" is a remarried Flemish widow (a comfortably well-off one--the previous husband left me with a textile business). It also has to be made out of the materials I have on hand--a bit tricky, as I'm going to need about 10-12 yards of fabric for a new dress, along with period-appropriate trims and accessories.
     I need to get to work on this. I need a new dress!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

They Came, They Saw, They Conquered Time

     While I was working away on things of a fibery nature, Stephen the Long-Suffering Spouse headed south for the German Invasion of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. This year marks the fiftieth time the Faire has been held in Southern California (every year since starting off in a North Hollywood park in 1963), and each weekend has been filled with special commorations and reunions.
     For a big part of the past 30 years, there has been a military presence, 16th century style, at every Faire in Northern and Southern California. Nearly every weekend of the run of Faire (as much as 13 weeks, including workshops and teardown after the Faire closed to the public), Stephen dressed up as a German landsknecht--a mercenary soldier--while I dressed up as his wife, tagging along as part of the baggage train. It was hot, dirty, hard work...and we loved it. We were proud members of the Guild of St. Michael's (named for the patron saint of soldiers). Sadly, other things in life (jobs, the house, avoiding a long commute to the Faire site, etc.) had to take priority and we hung away our costumes.
     Sunday April 22 was the reunion of former members of St. Michael's. It took about three months to organize. People traveled from long distances (in some cases, from across the country). Then, on Sunday, to the rolling thunder of eight drummers, nearly 100 Germans (along with a few English soldiers) stepped off to lead the Queen's procession. A smaller group led the procession for the afternoon Queen's Show. Between times, it was a reunion: people exchanged memories, hilarious (usually bawdy) stories were retold once again, the babies that were carried on mothers' hips during Progress were shown off to women who remembered when those mothers were babies, carried on their mothers' hips during Progress a generation before.
     My own landsknecht came home, loaded down with stories, photos, video, and some nice presents for the wife waiting patiently at home. I won't share my presents, but I will share the video of the afternoon Queen's Show Progress Stephen shot on Sunday. Noch Weiter!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

From left: Iron Gall; Toyon; Dyer's Coreopsis;
Coffee Berry;Sagebrush overdyed with Indigo

Backyard Rainbows

     I spent yesterday in a locally-sourced natural dyestuffs workshop taught by Rebecca Burgess of The Fibershed Project (more on that in a later post). It was a good opportunity to see what magic can be found from local plants, some of which are trying to take over the backyard.
     The workshop started off well. We all met at the Berkeley Rep's Prop Shop, which is near a little-known creek that quietly runs through the northern portion of Berkeley from San Pablo Avenue to the freeway. The portion between 8th and 9th streets has been restored to its original riparian landscape and is a pretty little walk. As we walked along, Rebecca pointed out the different native plants that make excellent dyestuffs: toyon,  manzanita, madrone, oak, horsetail, and mugwort, all growing as they once did along the myriad creeks and streams that flowed through the Bay Area. We didn't gather anything except information and an appreciation for a hidden treasure in the middle of the urban streetscape.
     Back at the Prop Shop, we got to work. Rebecca had brought lots of fabric samples (silk, cotton, linen, hemp, and such) that were pre-mordanted with alum and the dyepots were ready to go. I passed on making yarn samples from the navajo-churro yarn available and substituted my 25-yard "skeinlets" of wool sock yarn that had been pre-mordanted in 10% alum and 5% cream of tartar. The dye vats were ready, so the fabric samples and yarns went in to "steep" for an hour. We broke for lunch while the fiber was dyeing.

The vats:
-    Oak gall with "rusty object water": This is the classic "Iron Gall," used by dyers and ink-makers for centuries to produce a variety of grays and blacks. The mixture is oak galls broken up or pulverized, then added to water that has had rusty nails, steel, or steel wool sitting in it. The rust (iron oxide) becomes suspended in the water, and it binds with the tannins in the oak galls to produce a black tone.
-    Toyon. This was simply branches and leaves of Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) simmered in a copper pot. This produced a deep reddish brown.
-    Dyer's Coreopsis. The dried flowers of Dyer's Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) added to a pot of simmering water. This had a pleasant aroma (rather like herbal tea) while simmering, and produced a golden brown.
-    Coffee Berry. Again, the twigs and leaves of the Coffee Berry (Rhamnus californica) simmered in a stainless steel pot. This produced a dark yellow.
-    Sage. The chopped up leaves of California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), simmered in a pot of water, produced another yellow very similar to Coffee Berry.

     Once we finished the initial dyeing, Rebecca set up a small indigo vat so we could overdye yarns and fabric samples if we wished. I opted for overdyeing my sage sample with indigo to produce an olive green that was a nicer color than the original yellow from just sage.
     All in all, it was a good workshop. I would have liked getting a copy of Rebecca's book, Harvesting Color, but she didn't have any more copies available so I'll have to order it. The book lists a number of native plants that work for dyeing, and I'd like to see what else we could incorporate into the landscaping.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hurry, Black Sheep. Hurry!

     Exactly two months from this moment (7:06 a.m.) I will be waking up on the train, traveling north once again to the Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene. This annual gathering of the West Coast fiber tribe has become important to me. There are interesting classes to take, lots and lots of lovely fleeces to examine and (if lucky) buy, sweet-faced sheep to look at, and incomparable shopping for everything related to the fiber arts. Best of all, the Black Sheep Gathering is time for me to renew friendships with the fiber folk, and to spend several days spinning, talking, spinning, thinking about fiber, spinning, knitting, spinning, planning new projects, spinning...I think you get the idea.
     I woke up this morning and my first thought was, "Did I remember to pack my portable kate in my wheel bag?" Random, but maybe not.
     First, there is the weather. It's hot for April. Very hot. Today is going to be in the low 90s. While unseasonal for the San Francisco Bay Area (earlier in the week I was still wearing heavy sweaters and wool socks), this is the weather we have in mid-June, just before I leave for Black Sheep.
     Second, I have the house to myself. Stephen (my long-suffering spouse) is away at an historical reenactment this weekend. In the past, he has gone to the Pacific Primitive Rendezvous, which is held right before Black Sheep, so I have several days of being a "bachelor" before I leave for Oregon and he returns.
     Third is what the Black Sheep Gathering represents. It's at the very beginning of summer vacation: the eight weeks I have to myself before returning to the joys and frustrations of teaching. It's my time, and my trip up to Oregon marks the beginning of that time. This past year has been particularly stressful: the school I taught at 14 years was closed and I was transferred to another high school; mid-summer saw the replacement of nearly the entire administrative staff with people who are...ahem...less than effective at their jobs; and I've been plagued with health problems that kept me away from my spinning wheel for nearly nine months. I finally began spinning again only a month ago.
     So hurry up Black Sheep. I'm more than ready for my summer to start.