Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When Life is Boring, Life is Good

Remember being a teenager and whining about the times when your life was boring? Boring was a fate worse than death.

Nowadays with two kids in college and one still at home in high school, I relish the quiet life. I strive for tranquility, especially when I am alone, as though I am recharging an inner battery, so that I'll have a reservoir of calm and logic from which I can draw in times of chaos.

On Saturday, my son in Florida called to tell me that he had a terrible pain in his head, and that he'd had it for two days, and it wouldn't go away. May not seem like a big deal to some, but this is coming from a kid who has a tremendously high threshold for pain. As an example, when he was five years old, he stubbed the top of his toe almost completely off whilst playing outside, with the flesh barely hanging on by a proverbial thread; or was it a vein? I've got a strong stomach, but the site of my little boy's gray and bloody flesh nearly made me toss my cookies. I ran inside to get the first aid kit, and when I returned, he had removed the dangling piece of toe. He matter of factly said he did it because he knew it was going to have to come off, and that it couldn't possibly heal.

Throughout this entire episode, he never shed a tear. Nor did he cry when he needed stitches as a two year-old, nor when he caught his hand on a bike wheel, etc. He did cry, however, when his sea monkies died (Damn those idiots who sell sea monkies!) as he thought he had failed the creatures by not caring for them properly. He HAD taken care of them, but they died suddenly when they got too big and needed a filter, which we didn't know about.

So if he ever complains about something physical, it makes me crazy, especially because I am not there to take him to a doctor, get him some medicine, and feed him properly. As of today, he's finally off to see a doctor.

Second child, who has never, ever been in any kind of trouble called shortly afterwards. She too lives out of town at the University, although only an hour away. She knows that when she calls me at an odd hour she needs to start any conversation with "Everything is fine." Once I hear that, and my heart stops pounding, I can converse. For this phone call, she started off with "Don't worry, I am not in any real trouble, but I'm just now leaving the police station." Turns out that the police erroneously ticketed her car for parking violations. Whew!

Better than the time last semester when the police shone a flashlight in her sleeping face as they raided her dorm room at 3 a.m. for drugs belonging to her suite mates, prompting her to up and move to different lodgings on the double, since she does not drink, smoke or do drugs.

Then there's my elderly parents. My mother calls me several times each day to ask for advice. She called last week to tell me that my father had received a letter informing him that he had won $125, 000! The letter told him to keep this stellar news quiet, and to send the prize-givers $2000 to cover the U.S. taxes. She suspected it was a hoax and read me the letter. I was stunned to hear how well-worded the letter was. I reminded her what her mother, my Nana, used to say, "There's no such thing as a free lunch!" Unfortunately, my mother found out that three elderly people in the area had succumbed to temptation and sent off their money.

Time for me to put on the kettle, make a cuppa, give the rats a rib-rub, and rejoice that all is good: everyone in my family is healthy or on the way to the physician, no one is in the klink, and for now, my parents have not been defrauded. What a deliciously boring moment I will enjoy!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mambo Dog

There's nothing like a dancing dog to liven up your Sunday:

Friday, January 22, 2010

One Last Look at Mongolian Felting

You may have noticed that after items are felted, they are embroidered. Errta brought us all yarn that had been spun from the camel's wool, usually taken from the hair on the underside of the camel's neck. My classmates thought I should use some white thread to embroider my felt, but camels don't come in white. No problem for these incredible women. One woman whipped out cream roving from her own sheep and passed it to Anna, who kindly ran over to the spinning wheel and spun yarn for my project right then and there!

At the end of our weekend workshop, one of the participants dressed in Mongolian boots and clothing and played a beautiful instrument from Mongolia. We all stood while he offered a toast, thanking our instructor and her translator for their many kindnesses. He felted the hat on his head during the workshop.

All in all, a very special weekend!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The first step in felting, laying out the roving, can be accomplished in a few minutes. This step took me less than thirty minutes, but I'm sure it would go faster in the future. However, the experienced felters in the class said that this is the most important step, and if not done correctly, the end results will be less than optimum.

The second step involves hot water, a bar of soap, and a lot of elbow grease. We filled small buckets with water that was as hot as we could comfortably stand. We then scooped the water by the handful and wet the felt completely. Then a piece of tulle netting was placed over the top, and we used a bar of soap on our hands and on the netting until the whole thing was quite slippery. Circular motion is then applied to the wool with both hands until the fibers adhere to one another.

The piece is now somewhat felted, but not completely done. The piece is placed in a towel, and rolled repeatedly in all directions until the piece is quite thick and uniform. I'd say this second phase with the water, soap and towel took a couple of hours. I then took my piece home and let it air dry.

Here are photos of some of the projects. I don't have photos of everything, as I was so busy felting, that I didn't have the chance to photograph everything.

An embroidered wine bottle holder is on the left, containing two bottles of a fermented Mongolian drink made from milk. We had the opportunity to sample it--delicious and most unusual! In the middle is the traditional and quite functional Mongolian hat, with flaps that can be pulled down for more warmth, while on the right is a student's project, a cream-colored hat:

Another student chose to make slippers for a child. You can see the wooden slipper forms on the left, her purple roving laid out in the middle, and a finished pair of orange slippers on the right:

The shop had a trunk show featuring Errta's creations. Errta's gorgeous jackets, purses, slippers and hats were snapped up instantly:

More Mongolian Felting

Our teacher for the Mongolian Felting workshop was B. Erdenetsetseg, an assistant professor at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology and a member of the International Feltmakers Association. She has authored many books, and her work has been shown in England, China and Norway. She flew fourteen hours from Mongolia to be with us.

The closest I came to correctly saying her name was something that sounded like "Errta," where the double "r" seemed as though it were rolled, like the "rr" in Spanish. (I probably still do not have it correct--my apologies.) Since she did not speak English, a wonderful young man, Eric, from the Denver area, served as translator. He is a native of Mongolia and studying at one of the universities. Although Errta did not speak English, her delightful sense of humor and her unceasing encouragement transcended the language barrier. She was a terrific instructor.

The Mongolian Felting class participants were as fascinating as the class itself. Many of the fifteen members were professional artists, earning money from their felted hats, rugs, etc. Also, many participants keep sheep, alpacas or llamas, and so have access to plenty of wool for their art.

Mongolians not only make yurts out of felt, but almost every garment as well, including hats, coats, slippers and shoes, purses, etc.

The first step in this felting process is tearing pieces of roving into neat rows, and placing these rows into whatever shape your end product should be. Then a second layer is created by placing more roving onto the first layer, but this time, into columns. Then another row is placed, and another column, etc., until you have enough layers for your particular project. Roving is wool that has been cleaned up (carded) and is ready to be felted, or spun into thread for weaving or knitting, etc. Here Errta demonstrates:

Notice the gray and cream rolls of roving in the foreground, and that Errta has a piece of roving around her neck that she is rapidly tearing. The gentleman in the background is wearing a hat that he felted.

Here is the work of a classmate who felts alpaca hats professionally. She chose to use cream and pink, and has made six layers. She will be making the wine bottle holder shown behind her work. Note how perfectly she placed her roving, with no discernible thin or thick spots:

I chose emerald green, and also had six layers. You can see the roving next to my project. This is my first felting project, so my work isn't as fine as the work in the photo above.


Monday, January 18, 2010

A Visit to Mongolia

This past weekend I had the great honor of attending a seminar on Mongolian felt making that was held at a knitting/spinning/weaving shop in Boulder. You are probably asking "What is felt-making?" I've talked about one way of making felt before in this blog entry, where the item was first knitted, and then shrunk. Felting is simply a process where wool from an animal, such as sheep, llama, goat, alpaca, etc., is shrunk by heat, usually hot water, and agitation, as in, beating it with a stick, or running it through a washing machine.

Mongolians have been felting for thousands of years.

While Mongolia is the 19th largest country in the world land-wise, they rank #138 in population, with only 2.9 million people. Yet, they have nearly 28 million sheep, which works out to nearly 10 sheep per person. In the film above, the herders first sheer the sheep. Then they beat the fleece with sticks while hot water is poured over it. The fleece is then rolled up, and the strongest horse that can be found drags the wool around for nearly two kilometers! Note in the movie that the spindle holding the wool is turning; this agitation is what turns the hairy fleece into solid, thick felt. The Mongolian people have used felt for thousands of years to make their homes, called yurts. These homes keep the nomads warm and dry, an incredible feat considering that the average low during the winter months is -22 degrees! Plus, the yurt can be moved around as they follow their flocks to better pasture land.

Our emphasis in the class was on making garments or items for the home, which I'll talk about in my next post.

Monday, January 11, 2010

One Down, One to Go

Amazing what -16 degrees prompts you to do. At that temperature, just breathing deeply is painful. While we rarely get to zero degrees here in this part of the Rockies, I want to be prepared next time it happens. As you already saw, I made mittens in a hurry for both of my daughters so that they would be warm as they wait for the bus.

Now, it's my turn for something cozy. I selected Rowan Cocoon, a merino and mohair blend, in Emerald green; you can't imagine how plush this yarn feels. Then I went off to Ravelry.com for a free pattern. I knew I wanted cables, and this patterns features three of them. The cuff is extra-long so that my forearms will be impervious to even the coldest of winds.

Old Man Winter, I'm ready and waiting for you, or at least, my left hand is.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mittens in a Hurry

It's nippy here in the Rocky Mountains, especially if you have to spend time waiting outside for the school bus, as both my daughters do. I wanted them to have some especially warm mittens, and I wanted them in a hurry. No time for anything fancy. So I picked up some bigger needles (double pointed, size 8), some chunky wool from France, Laika, and a skein of Mohair for added warmth and softness.

I repeated in a different color way for my other daughter: