The Best Birthday

Last year, in the middle of my graduate program, I needed a break. Luckily for me, Houston Fiber Fest was taking place over my birthday weekend. Perfect.

After the initial sensory overload of walking into a large space full of yarn, I started exploring. I was drawn to the sheen and colors of the yarns at one particular booth and was delighted to learn that they used only natural dyes. Wool Tree Yarn is a line of naturally dyed yarn made by fiber artist Casey Galloway and sold exclusively through Lucky Ewe Yarn in New Braunfels, Texas. They had an interesting logo – a small lamb growing out of a plant – and explained its significance.

Wool Tree Yarn Logo

The Wool Tree logo is based on a lithograph from medieval Europe. During the late medieval period, cotton became an imported fiber in northern Europe. Without any knowledge of how it was derived, other than that it was a plant; noting its similarities to wool, people in the region could only imagine that cotton must be produced by plant-borne sheep. John Mandeville, writing in 1350, stated that “There grew a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the ends of its branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungry.” This image is retained in the name for cotton in many European languages, such as German Baumwolle, which translates as “tree wool” (Baum means “tree”; Wolle means “wool”).

I loved this super bulky wool cord at the Independence Farmstead Fibers booth. They had samples of gorgeous tapestries made from it. The fiber mill is located just outside Brenham, Texas. According to their website:

Our fibers are traceable – each labeled with a known “Pasture of Origin”- providing a strong sense of place for the handcraft artist.

There were countless booths tempting me with their beauties.

A booth from True Vineyard Ministries out of San Marcos, Texas, caught my attention with its colorful fabric yarns. True Vineyard Ministries provides “holistic support to Africa’s poorest through job creation, community building, and spiritual counsel.” Through the Handspun Hope initiative, women hand spin and dye yarn from the wool of local Merino sheep. While they had soft balls of Merino yarn, I could not resist these balls made from cotton fabric. Those colors!

And here are my purchases. The ball of 100% Cotton fabric in the upper left corner is from Handspun Hope (~30 yards). The regal purple skein is called Bevy of Swans by Alisha Goes Around, 435 yards of 50% silk, 50% Superwash Merino in a fingering weight. The blue/orange skein on the far left is a fingering weight 75% Superwash Merino, 25% Nylon from Kyla’s Lab (463 yards). The two center skeins in soft carmine hues from the cochineal insect are by Wool Tree Yarn (70% Superwash Merino, 30% Silk, 438 yards each). The skein across the bottom is a single ply 70% Superwash Merino, 30% Silk from Barn Owl Yarns. I bought it for the color – Monkey Business (400 yards).

Waves of yarn.

Close ups.

It was a great birthday getaway.

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(Source: HoustonFiberFest.com)

Tracking my Stash

For a long time, I used an app to keep track of my needles, my yarn, and works in progress. But twice now, the apps I’ve used – and paid for – stopped being supported. Any time I tried to add a new yarn or needle, the apps would crash. I needed an alternative and preferred a digital solution that I could access anytime, anywhere.

Many knitters and crocheters use Ravelry – I too have an account – but I found their desktop interface too convoluted and their app even more so. I searched for other knitting apps in the App Store but mostly found online counters and not the comprehensive digital tool I was looking for. Then, it hit me. I’ve been using Evernote for some time now. I use it to track information that I need to have handy but may not need every day, such as my mom’s prescription list. I use it to jot down blog ideas, which is what it was intended for – to take quick notes, write drafts, capture thoughts. If I see or read something that interests me that I want to explore further, I can take a screen capture, upload a photo, or copy a link into a note and add my own commentary. I can then go back through my notes and decide which ideas I want to pursue. So, it occurred to me that I could use Evernote to track my yarn stash and needle inventory. It has all the basic fields I need and much more functionality than any knitting app. There is the added benefit that Evernote is available in a desktop version for when I want a large screen and has phone and iPad apps. Even better, all my notes are automatically synchronized across all platforms.

In Evernote, you can take and track notes on anything. You can create notebooks to keep all your related notes together if you like. I created a “stack” for notes having to do with my blog. I have eight notebooks in my stack. This organization works for me, but you don’t have to make notebooks or stacks if you don’t want to.

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In my Yarn Stash notebook, I uploaded a photo of every gorgeous yarn in my possession.

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I entered basic data about each yarn – name, brand, weight, fiber type, yardage, color, and where it was purchased. This is all the same information I entered into the Vogue Knitting app which I lost when the app kept crashing. It did require a one-time manual effort to type up all my notes, but now that they’re entered, I can copy or export my data anytime. I couldn’t do that with the app. Here’s what a full-page note looks like.

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You can also add tags that allow you to filter your notes. You define the tags that make the most sense for your notes. For example, I used a filter to find all the self-striping yarn in my stash. Apparently, I have six kinds of self-striping yarn.

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You can run a regular “Search” for any words in your notes without having to create a tag. A search for “Bulky” found 15 notes.

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I didn’t stop there. I entered notes on my Fiber Stash as well. Now I can search for specific fibers, like merino, yak and alpaca, or search by color.

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I also created a Fabric Stash …

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… and started a listing of all the Yarn Shops I’ve visited.

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And, since I did not want to risk losing all my information on needle sizes and kinds (dpn, circular, straight), I entered them into an Excel spreadsheet and uploaded it into a note. Now, if I don’t have the size needles I need and purchase a new set, I simply update the Excel spreadsheet and all my information is automatically synchronized on my Evernote apps and on the desktop version.

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Now I have all the information I need about my needles, yarn, fibers and fabrics. Evernote is a free app which gives you 60MB of data per month. I have Evernote Premium ($69.99/year) because I thought I would need more space when I started my MBA program. You may not need the extra space.

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All-Nighters and Second-Hand Yarn

It’s hard to grasp that I am almost halfway through my Executive MBA program. The last eight months have flown by or perhaps I didn’t notice the time passing. The days are filled with meetings that need to be attended, decisions that need to be made and people who need to be met. Nighttime is school time. At this stage of life, I am once again pulling all-nighters. And like those college days, the next day feels euphoric as if I just climbed a mountain or won a marathon. Then comes the crash on or about mid-afternoon of the third day.

There have been the moments of wondering why I chose to do this to myself. There have been stretches of dread trying to figure out if I should fail to reject the null hypothesis and whether the price of a good causes a movement along the demand curve or shifts it entirely, either to the left or to the right.

Having survived the “quants,” we are now in the midst of courses about launching and leading business ventures. I have learned a tremendous amount and despite those twinges of regret that usually come between 3 and 5 in the morning, I am so glad I am doing this. The academic learning challenges me and keeps me sharp and the case studies and classroom discussions round out my experience. Plus, I now have approximately 180 new friends from all walks of life and careers all the way from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Santiago, Chile and from the west to east coasts of the United States.

We recently had our second residency on the Cornell campus. Between work, school, family and the occasional nap, my time is consumed. But such is my passion for yarn that I arrived one day early in Ithaca so that I could visit the local hipster yarn spots. If you read my last Ithaca post, you may recall that the yarn shop closest to campus was closed. This time, I made it there twice in one week … in the snow.

I learned that Homespun Boutique has been an Ithaca gem for over 40 years. Every surface is covered with all types of wool, both spun and unspun, and many other fibers. Upon entering, a cardboard cutout sheep displaying lovely balls of yarn greets you.

There are baskets and bins neatly arranged on almost every square meter of floor, like these skeins of organic wool in various weights.

I found a whole shelf of earthy pure Alpaca undyed to showcase its natural hues.

My favorite was the lo-cal yarn – fewer calories, less fat, and tastes great! The Looney Tunis label is for the wool from a flock of tunis sheep located on a farm in nearby Spencer, NY.

Then there were these swoon-worthy displays and the ubiquitous wall of yarn.

Not to be outdone, the other half of the shop was filled with bolts of fabrics grouped by shades of red, yellow and green and all the other colors of the rainbow.

The shop’s only drawback was that it did not have a space for wool-gathering. If they moved a few fabric displays to a back room, they could easily fit in a table and some comfy chairs, and perhaps even an espresso machine for those chilly Ithaca winters.

Homespun Boutique is located on one end of Ithaca Commons, a 4-block pedestrian shopping area flanked by boutiques, restaurants and second-hand stores. At the opposite end of the Commons is SewGreen, a non-profit focused on upcycling fabrics and yarn. Very cool.

Because it relies on donations for its inventory, you never know what treasures you will find at SewGreen. They had cubbies full of yarn, cones of thread, knitting patterns, vintage hooks and needles, embroidery hoops and buttons.

Most of the space was devoted to fabrics. Someone had recently donated several yards of fabric with various bird designs which covered an entire display table.

SewGreen has a boutique of gently used Eileen Fisher clothing. The staff will carefully mend any flaws and the items are cleaned and steamed before being put out for sale. I love their tagline – “We Make ReUse Beautiful.”

My visits to both stores resulted in the following souvenirs: 2 skeins of Zen Serenity Silk Singles in two colorways; 1.5 yards of the red, teal, and yellow fabric; some vintage straight knitting needles; and a few fat quarters.

Now back to studying.

Austin Yarn Shops

One of my favorite cities in Texas is none other than Austin. Austin is our state capitol and home to the University of Texas Longhorns. Austin hosts the Austin City Limits music festival (just ACL for the locals) and the South by Southwest (sxsw) music and film extravaganza. For the young – and young at heart – there’s the nightlife on 6th Street. Go antiquing on South Congress (SoCo) and watch the bats come out at dusk from underneath the South Congress Avenue bridge. There is no end to the things that Keep Austin Weird!

A place as groovy as Austin is bound to have some awesome yarn stores. Here are three that are sure to please.

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5406 Parkcrest Drive, Austin, Texas 78731, Tel. 512.371.9300

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At Gauge, I ran into a fellow knitting enthusiast who showed me around the shop. She didn’t even work there! As soon as you walk in, you are greeted by this pompom mobile.

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The shop has all the expected cubbies full of colorful yarn.

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I liked this crocheted cacti!

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Gauge has a nice back room where you can sit and knit. A class was in session so I quietly perused the sock yarn options.

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This display featured hand-dyed yarns from nearby Georgetown, Texas. The colors just popped!

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The next stop was Me & Ewe, a combination yarn and fabric store.

4903 Woodrow Ave., Austin, Texas 78756, Tel. 512.220.9592
4903 Woodrow Ave., Austin, Texas 78756, Tel. 512.220.9592

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Me & Ewe is located in a cute cottage with bright yellow and aqua trim – very Austin. The front room is full of lovely yarn.

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Adjoining the main room is a smaller alcove where you ring up your purchases. Hanging along the entryway were these adorable, handmade Barbie clothes. It turns out that when a customer found out she was having a baby, she began meticulously hand-knitting a closet full of dress-up clothes for her future daughter to play with. Alas, the daughter never quite got into dolls and the wardrobe was mostly unused. It is now lovingly in display at the shop.

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There are two more rooms in the cottage dedicated to fabrics – lots and lots of fabrics. I loved the modern prints.

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The third yarn store is not actually in Austin, but about 40 miles east in Paige, Texas. It is absolutely worth the side-trip.

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130 Gonzales Street, Paige, TX 78659, Tel. 512.253.0100

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Yarnorama is a fiber-enthusiast’s dream. They carry looms and threads for weaving, …

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…wheels and fiber for spinning, …

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…and plenty of yarn for knitting and crocheting.

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There was so much to see and touch, I didn’t even know where to start!

I also stopped in at Hill Country Weavers, one of my fave yarn stores ever. Because I had been many times, I didn’t linger and do not have photos to share, except for this one.

All You Knit is Love - Hill Country Weavers

Need I say more?

Spring Blooms

For Easter weekend, our family congregated at my sister’s home in San Antonio, Texas. It is a three-hour monotonous drive between Houston and San Antonio on Interstate 10. As I was traveling alone, I decided to make the trip a bit more interesting. I took a detour north on State Highway 71 headed to La Grange, Texas – population just under 5,000 and home of the Texas Quilt Museum.

There were three exhibits on display that were particularly impressive. The first, “Modern Quilt Guild at the Texas Quilt Museum” showcased the guild’s first juried quilt show. Photography is not allowed inside the museum but you can see photos at the Modern Quilt Guild’s blog. Here is one sample.

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Source: MQG Blog

Also on display were the Magna Carta Quilts from the UK. There are a total of eight quilts. According to the Magna Carta Quilt website:

…four Medieval Quilts will tell the story of the Magna Carta in a graphic novel style… The story starts with the death of Richard the Lionheart, which lead to the ascension of his brother John to the throne of England, runs through the events leading up to the sealing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede… The Magna Carta was the first document ever imposed upon a King of England…by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights. The four Legacy Quilts…will be the shields of the 25 feudal barons who drew up the terms of the Magna Carta…

The detail of these quilts was mind-boggling. The figures depicted all had singular expressions, carried different items in their hands and wore varied medieval clothing according to their rank.

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Medieval Quilt IV (Source: Magna Carta Quilt)

The third exhibit of note was called “Wild Fabrications” sponsored by the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). You can view the entire exhibit online at the SAQA website in a slide show format. I highly recommend viewing it in full screen mode. My favorite was the polar bear.

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Now You See Him by Cat Larrea (Source: SAQA)

Wild Fabrications celebrates a world of animals both real and fantastical. The theme not only lends itself particularly to bold colors and whimsical imagery, but also to beautiful realism, and humor that can be ebullient or dark.

On the exterior side wall of the building that houses The Quilt Museum is this stunning mural that depicts traditional 19th century quilts.

Quilt Museum Exterior

The mural serves as a backdrop to Grandmother’s Flower Garden.

Many quilt makers…are also gardeners, and many quilt patterns were inspired by flowers, plants, trees, and nature in general. We named the garden for a beloved Depression-era quilt pattern, “Grandmother’s Flower Garden.”

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And if that isn’t enough to tempt you to visit, next door to The Quilt Museum is a fabric and YARN store called The Quilted Skein.

The Quilted Skein

There were four rooms of fabrics in all colors and patterns. And WALLS OF YARN.

The Quilted Skein - Yarn Wall

The staff was busily climbing ladders to hang up beautiful new quilt displays. They were having a good time making sure no one toppled off ladders and took time to assist me as I perused the yarn and picked out some fabric squares.

The Quilted Skein - Sock Yarn

It was time to get back on I-10 and continue my trip to San Antonio. From La Grange, I took a leisurely drive on Farm to Market Road 609. The countryside was littered with bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes – picture-perfect scenery.

Bluebonnets on FM 609

Indian Paintbrushes on FM 609

Back on I-10, I made another stop in Seguin, Texas, the pecan capital of the world – so-called because of the large production of pecans in the area. Seguin has a quaint downtown historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places. My destination was You’re So Crafty, a crafts store for making pottery, painting, beadwork, knitting and spinning. One could spend weeks here and not run out of crafty things to do.

You're So Crafty - Spinning Tools

This display was full of yarn spun from locally produced fibers. These skeins are from Windmill Crest Farms, a small alpaca farm of about 50 animals located in Seguin.

You're So Crafty Local Yarn

Content with the day’s discoveries, it was time to make the rest of the trip to my sister’s house. Both my brothers from back home and my mom and aunt were there, plus some neighbors. Between all of us, there were 25+ kids and adults hitting piñatas and cracking cascarones on each others’ heads – brightly colored confetti everywhere! After the meal, the older kids (teens and college students) gathered at the dining room table for a fierce game of Monopoly. As my siblings and I sat outside, we reminisced about how once upon a time, it was us running around the yard and competing at board games. Now we sat around comparing what medications and maladies we had in common. We had good laughs and good food surrounded by family. It was a glorious weekend full of spring blooms.