Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Tale of Two Yarn Shops

I so wanted to start this post: "It was the best of shops.  It was the worst of shops."  But couldn't.  At first glance, both shops are lovely.

Let me back up a bit.

I got a phone call from my sister, Steph, who lives in Orlando this past Sunday.  One of her best friends (an only child) mom had died suddenly of a massive heart attack.  Steph has always been the social butterfly of the family who can become best friends with someone in practically an instant (she will chat up anyone).  I think of her as the 'Chatty Kathy' (sorry to all the Kate's, Kathy's, Katherine's and Kattie's out there.  My name is Susan (lazy Susan) so I understand but you know how it goes) of the family.  However, even with all of the people she 'friends' she really has a core group of people who are her BFF's and for them she will do anything.  So, when her BFF Vicki called at what has to be one of the worst times in a person's life Steph said she would be here for her.  She was calling me to let me know that she would be flying in to Philly in two days.  Mom & Dad were going to pick her up.

Now, I love my parents dearly faults and all.  But the drive to Philly is 2 hours each way and the PA Turnpike between here and there is hilly and twisty.  The drive out would be in daylight but the return trip would be at night.  My Dad will be 68 in a few months and while his health is generally good (he had a mild stroke a few years ago) he does not have complete use of his left hand and (let's face it) shouldn't be on the highway for 4+ hours when someone else is available.

I was available.  And, since her flight wasn't due to arrive until a little after 5 in the evening there was plenty of time to stop in at a Philly yarn shop.  Maybe two if I left early enough!

Well, the weather yesterday did not match my enthusiasm.  It was dark, grey, cloudy, overcast, foggy, wet, and rainy.  A perfect day to stay in bed with a good book or some warm knitting.  But I was on a mission and taking Max with me.

I contacted Ann (a twitter friend who lives in Philly) for her thoughts on the Philly yarn scene.  I had visited Loop a few years ago.  While I liked that shop I wanted to see others.  There were logistics involved including actual location and also the availability of parking.  All of the shops she recommended that are in Philly she had been to herself and could vouch for the pros and cons of each having experienced them.  There was one other she knew of in the suburbs but she hadn't personally been to...

A Garden of Yarn is in the suburb of Chadd's Ford just outside of West Chester.  This is the "I've got money and am not afraid to prove it" side of the street when it comes to Philly suburbs.  It took us a while to find as some of the roads in PA seem to have been marked and/or numbered by someone's drunk uncle with a math/directional impairment.  But we found it.  To paraphrase a review I found of this place online, "It is a beautiful little shop nestled amongst other beautiful little shops in a quaint shopping village".

First of all, I didn't think this shop was "little".  Not compared to the square footage of most of the other LYS's I have been to where they have to creatively use every square inch for display.

Secondly, It is a gorgeous shop.  They have a very broad selection of yarns, though very little sock yarn and no local indie dyers.  The yarns they do carry were very nicely displayed.  Arranged by color in some interesting ways.  They had some hand painted wool that I would have plunked some serious cash down on except for one little problem....

They were so f***ing rude as to not even say, "Hello" or greet me in ANY way when we walked into the store!!!  I don't walk into business establishments with my head down hoping they don't see me.  Nor, am I a tiny, petite, whisp-of-a-woman.  I wore my Noro February Lady sweater for f*** sake.  They completely ignored me!  It was only after I had wandered around the entire shop that one of the women came over and complemented my sweater.  And then walked away again without so much as asking if I was looking for something in particular!  You can't possibly expect me to spend even a penny in your shop if you value me so little as a customer.  And, just to clarify:  there was not one owner/salesperson manning the shop all by herself during a busy sale...there were three women there.  In fairness, I think one was not employed there but I'm certain the other two had some official business in the shop which should have included TAKING CARE OF THE POTENTIAL SALE OR SALES THAT JUST WALKED IN THE DOOR!

OK, so Max and I got back in the car.  I was angry and disappointed.  Max was hungry.  He's a sixteen year old boy on a weird field trip with Mom and always hungry anyway.  So, we drove on.  I contemplated just going straight to the airport and hanging out (knitting and spinning) there.  But, I had told Max so much about South Street and the wonderful atmosphere and food to be found there that he insisted we at least try it.

Because it turns out that one of the other shops is on South Street as is Loop.  Max was with us the day my Mom and I went there a few years ago.  He had stayed in the car with the men folk but remembered it was on South Street.  Funny that visit was also in February on a cold and dreary day.  Note to self: bring Max back to the South Street neighborhood in the summer when he can really appreciate how special a place it really is.

So, we headed south on 95.  That's an experience in and of itself.  I got lucky and found a parking spot at the corner of South and 9th.    The shop was less than a block away.  We slogged the short distance through the rain that had been with us all morning.  We were looking for a shop called Nangellini.  I almost missed the door to the unassuming little shop.  Stepping through that door was like walking into a warm and sunny retreat.  We were instantaneously and warmly greeted by the owner, Nancy (Ravelry name Nangellini); one of her customers that was getting some one-on-one assistance from Nancy; and from Mandie (Ravelry name moderndaygypsy), the shopgirl.  I use that term lovingly.  An employee is someone who just works for someone.  Some are good, some are not.  A shopgirl is essential to a good and well run shop that takes care of its customers.  Mandie was that and more.  She showed us around, asked about my interests, showed me various products, and made suggestions.  You could tell that she cares about Nancy, the shop, and the customers.

Here are some pictures of the shop:

Nancy also sells pop art made by her and a friend of hers as well as some lovely finished knitted items.

Everything is beautifully displayed.

Lots of color everywhere!

These pictures are all of the downstairs of the shop.  Most of the yarn is upstairs.  I, however, am lazy and when I remembered I had my camera I had already come back down.  Plus, I think Max would have gnawed my arm off if he thought I wasn't about to go out the door in search of food for him.

Through Mandie's suggestions, I finally got the answer to my how-the-hell-am-I-going-to-bead-this-lace-weight-yarn-I'm-spinning dilemma.  The answer is string the teeny tiny seed beads on a teeny tiny iridescent thread.  At $.04/yd I was going to spend $20 and get 500 yards.  But this stuff is so teeny tiny that it was impossible to measure that many yards without ruining the thread and/or driving the person trying to measure it insane.  So, Nancy graciously offered to sell the cone for $15.  I have no idea how much is on the cone nor do I think anyone will ever know.  But I think it was probably a good deal for both of us.  And, I greatly appreciated it.  

The thread under natural light.

How it sparkles when it catches the light!

In addition to the thread, I also got these...

That, my dear friends, is just over a pound of silk!

Offered for sale by this company and available at Nangellini.

One of the coolest things about this yarn is that it is recycled scraps from the weaving mills in India that is then handspun by a women's cooperative.  So buying this helps the environment, the women who create it, and the communities in which they live.

And, the colors are amazing!

Reminds me of a peacock's tail.

The solid colors are in hanks of 100 g/100 yds and sell for $14.  Nancy has an orange and a bright green that I am kicking myself for not buying but as is I spent more than I probably should have...isn't that always the case?  My yarn appetite is always bigger than the budget.  Oh, well, I LOVE what I did get.

The multi-color skeins are a great deal though.  Each is 200 g/180 yds and sells for just $16.

When I was done drooling over and petting all of the lovelies in Nancy's shop I asked for a pizza recommendation.  Max was getting ready to start chowing down on whatever he could catch and wrestle to the ground and I didn't think that kind of behaviour would make a favorable impression on the ladies in the shop.  They heartily suggested Little Italy, a relatively new (opened in 2008) pizza shop less than a block away.  Let me tell you, these women know their pizza in addition to their fiber!

He went from snarling to purring!

Amazingly, I even got him to take the thing away from his face for a split second for this shot.

With yarn in car and pizza in stomach we were finally ready to do what we came here to do and headed for the airport.  Surprisingly, it only took 15 minutes.  We got a close parking space and went in to hang out and wait for Steph.

Just chillin'

The view.  Driving home in this was a blast.

Steph's flight left Orlando 30 minutes late yet arrived on time.  How the hell do they manage that?  But I have to say, she said the flight was uneventful.  So, way to go US Air.  It's not very often that you hear anything good about the airline industry so I kind of figure they at least deserve a quick shout-out on an obscure fiber arts blog.  It's the least I can do.  All of the people Max and I came into contact in the airport were also very helpful and courteous.  I had never been to the Philadelphia International Airport before but would not hesitate to fly in or out of there in the future.  They were great.  (I had to get directions to the gate and where we should wait from two different people near two of the security check areas and they were awesome).

The drive home sucked.  The Surekill Expressway was as bad as ever.  But I'm glad we had the chance to take a little road trip.  I got to see my sister during what is going to be a very short and hectic visit.  And, it kept Mom and Dad from having to deal with an ugly drive.

Most importantly, I can check off two more PA Yarn shops that I have visited.  And, look forward to visiting Nangellini again in the future.  If you are in the Philadelphia area or want to get some of this gorgeous silk for yourself, stop in or call or e-mail Nangellini.  Here's her card.

Tell her that Ann and Sue sent you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A visit to The Mannings

The Mannings is a spinning and weaving school and a wonderful shop located near Hanover, PA.  Yesterday, some of the members of the local Ravelry sock knitting group took a field trip to this wondrous place.  

The snow covered creek you cross just before you arrive.

The red bank barn at the edge of the property.  I love barns like this.  Beauty and functionality.

We made it!

The building is a good size but still very deceptive.  It goes back on the other side into an 'L' shape that you really can't see when you first get there.

The unofficial official welcoming committee makes its way over to us.  There were half a dozen barn cats but this one seemed to be the only one working in an official capacity yesterday.

A very friendly welcome. My cat was a little sketchy (different dialect than I am used to) but I think he is saying, "Welcome, go on in".  Either that or, "Scratch me or I'll bite your ankle".  But I'm reasonably sure it was the former.

They have a very large area for books, magazines, and patterns.  Don't mind the mess along the back wall, they are doing a little remodeling.

Alice (the dyer behind the label Alto Bish and Ravelry name 'Azalea' is on the left.  The other womens' names escape me.  I really suck at remembering names.  Some days I forget my own.  Seen checking out the many sock yarns.

The classroom with the wheels and looms is HUGE and they seem to have at least one of everything.

I don't know anything about looms.  But this one seems like a grand piano compared to an upright (if you know instruments you know what I mean).

The item at the top of my wish list is a wheel.

And then, perhaps a class at The Mannings should be next on my list.

Amazingly, I made it out of there without buying any yarn.  I did, however, get 24 ounces of super soft Australian wool top, a 4 ounce brick of raw silk, and some sparkley stuff  for blending.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dyed Bright Here

The new blog...hopefully trademark infringement free...

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Olympic Qualifying Rounds

I am still in the process of cleaning out/up my stash and WIP's.  Last Thursday I plunked my butt down in the middle of the living room and resumed the drudgery and pain neccesary task that is sitting on the floor and having to decide what to keep (it has to have a good reason to stay) and what to give to my Mom.  While torturing myself working hard I found a WIP that I had forgotten about (yes, I have forgotten about most of them).  This one is a pair of argyle socks.  I designed them myself and after finishing the first one realized that I would have to buy more yarn if I wanted them to be identical.  Well, I'm just not that picky and money for yarn is always scarce.  So, I had started the second sock with the colors reversed.  Thus, they became the Funky Fraternal Argyles.

I am cowering in fear of biding my time on starting to work on fixing the red hot mess that is Carter's Zip-up Ski Vest and so when I went to Kathy's for knit night on Friday I took the socks with me.  It took a couple of minutes to get my bearings (since I lost the color chart long ago and now it is just in my head and on the socks).  Once I figured out where I was, it's been smooth sailing.  

I started from where the darning needle is on Friday night.


The first sock with main colors purple & pink

Sewing up the seam that runs from the top of the heel to the top of the cuff.

Pulled tight together the pattern matches up perfectly (Shame it didn't happen on the FIRST try)

Stitches picked up and heel in progress.  Notice the hole left at the bottom of the seam.  I'll take care of this once I finish the heel.  The tail of the seam is hanging on the inside to finish the seam.

Time to turn the heel.  The three parts of a completed heel (heel flap, turning the heel, and picking up the gusset stitches) are my absolute favorite things to knit.  I can't imagine how anyone ever figured out how to do this but he/she was a freakin' genius!

Heel turned.  All is right with the world (or my sad little corner of it anyway).

Colors switched, gusset decreases done (the trick is to add an extra stitch for the selvage on each side and remembering to do the decrease when there are 4 stitches left instead of the usual 3), all live stitches back on the needles.  All that's left now is a inch or two of the foot, the toe decreases, grafting, sewing the seams on the sides of the foot, and the rest of the tails.

Fits great!  This yarn is Web's brand of Valley Yarn Superwash wool in a worsted weight that I bought the one time I was actually there!  If you are ever in the neighborhood (Mass) you MUST visit this amazing place.  Not to be sacrilegious but it is the equivalent of Mecca for yarn and fiber lovers. The colors are 419 Biscuit, 320 Plum, 522 Teal, 694 Spring Leaf, Black, and I don't see the same pink color there anymore but 913 Mauve would certainly work.

Two seams and the tails to go...

It looks like I am going to sail through this qualifying round.  Then I won't have any more excuses to keep me from getting my ass in gear on that red hot mess....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Let the Games Begin

The Knitting Olympics start this afternoon when the Olympic Flame is lit.  Stephanie Pearl-McPhee had a cool idea four years ago and this year marks the second Knitting Olympics.  For her post on the start of this wondrous event (and to get yourself registered if you want to join), click here.  The Knitting Olympics Athletes Pledge is here on Feb 10, 2006.

Last time, I made my first socks.  It was the whole idea of challenging myself as a knitter that gave me that first feeling of fearlessness.  This time I am going to attempt to fix/finish what started as a wool vest (brown) knit in the round.  When I realized I would not have enough yarn for this I bravely stupidly continued on by spinning a second color (cream), splitting the knitting into front/back and doing colorwork.  This then became three colors (brown, cream, and turquoise) as i continued spinning.  Then, when the back was finished, it turns out that it is (1) too long and (2) a bit too tight.  So, I ripped out the in-the-round part.  I will knit the front as one piece (adding stitches to fix the too tight part) and incorporate steek stitches up the middle.  So, that I can for the first time ever steek something* AND also for the first time ever sew in a zipper.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention... I spun all of the turquoise roving I had and it clearly wouldn't be enough.  So, I dyed some cream yarn turquoise to match.  I also spun the yarn for the steek (a golden yellow).  This thing is for Carter who (thankfully) loves color.  But he also had a request for pockets.  Shoot me now.

So, here is a gratuitous picture of this thing (before I ripped out the in-the-round part) just to give you an idea of what I am doing.  I bought the zippers a couple of days ago (red) so I think I am ready to go...

* A steek is when you CUT your knitting in order to separate two sides of a cardigan (zippered, buttoned, or plain), to add sleeves, or any time where it is easier to knit a design as one piece and then make it two.  Extra stitches are added where the cut will be made.  They are fortified with one or two lines of sewn stitches prior to "cutting the steek".  The knitter is usually fortified with a small amount of alcohol (more could cause steek and/or knitter impairment instead of fortification).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For the Love of Color

In my last post I talked about the need to achieve a sort of balance between trusting my artistic instincts and questioning myself more to insure that I get the desired results the first time  (or sooner rather than later).  The section about trusting myself was based on the first braid of roving that I hand painted.  When I worried that it had come through the dyeing process as a dark, icky mess I second guessed myself and started opening the braid.  When I saw the colors I wanted I was like a little kid at Christmas with a tantalizing package in front of me.  I couldn't stop at just peeking.  I had to open the fibers and see the riotous color.

I split the roving into fourths.  And started spinning.  Each was about an ounce.  All of my spinning is done with drop spindles.

So, spinning anything takes longer for me than it would for a wheel spinner.  Although, I have to say that my time has improved quite a bit lately.  Might be the fact that I spun 9 oz of Ruby recently. Of course, the time it takes is in no way part of the goal of spinning.  The goal is to be able to produce the desired type of yarn CONSISTENTLY.  That, my dear, is the tricky part.  But the VERY tricky part is being able to produce consistent yarns in a VARIETY of weights.  Anyway, back to the time it takes me to spindle spin...  

When I was spinning all of those Ruby batts I got it down to about 3 hours to spin 1 ounce and then between 30 and 45 minutes to ply it to itself.  With this roving (and, yes.  I have spun all four of them already) by the time I was on the 4th (and sadly the last) ounce I spun it in 2 hours.  The plying is taking between 20 and 30 minutes.  The biggest problem I have run into in trying to spin this relatively quickly is my carpal tunnel in my right (drafting) hand.  I hold the fiber in my left hand, flick the spindle with my right hand, draft with my right hand, and then wind the yarn on with my (say it with me) right hand.  So by the time I'm done with just one ounce my right hand has had between 3-5 hours of exactly the type of repetitive pinching motion work that can be crippling.  A couple of days of this in a row and I start to have a gnarled claw.  

So I am wondering about spinning with a wheel.  While I wouldn't have to do the winding on of the yarn, I would still be drafting the fiber.  I have a feeling I would be able to use more of a long draw method with similar fibers instead of the inch worm approach  that using the spindle seems to necessitate.  Plus, the wheel would speed up the time.  While not a goal in and of itself, the natural increase would allow more fiber to be spun in the same amount of time or let me spin the same fiber in less time and lessen the strain on my hands so that I could spin for more days in a row.  I just wonder HOW much of a difference it will make.  Just one more thing to ponder while dreaming of the day that I can afford a wheel.  In the meantime, I am just thrilled, tickled, ecstatic to have produced this roving and spun this yarn.

These are pretty good photos of the first half of the yarn.  The third section is drying and I still need to ply the fourth.  I can't wait until it is all finished and we have a sunny day so I can take pictures of the whole thing in all its glory.

There is a cohesiveness to the whole of this.  It has an overall shade of brownish-purple that reminds me of that part of Autumn when the fire-red is almost but not quite gone.

And yet, you can clearly see individual colors.  Olive.  Gold.  Brown.  Black.  Rust.  Purple.  Copper.  Teal.  Turquoise.  Tan.  Navy.  Pink.  Mauve. Cobalt.  Green.  Salmon.  

I haven't measured the wraps-per-inch (WIP) yet.  I'm going to do that and re-measure the total yardage once the last bit is plied and finished.  Seems to me though that I should have in the neighborhood of 300 yards when all is said and done.  It is not as fine of a lace weight at I got with Ruby.  I purposely tried to keep it thicker.  Should be a solid fingering weight.  

All I know is that I could stare at this stuff for hours.  The colors are just mesmerizing to me.  

Well, I'm gonna go and ply that last bit now.  And, ponder what colors I should dye the other naked braid I have.  It's begining to taunt me...