Kente Cloth Socks

Some time ago, on a trip to Austin, Texas, I visited several yarn shops – sort of my own mini yarn crawl. I wrote about the darling yarn stores I visited here. On that trip, I purchased this multicolored skein of Cross Creek Sock yarn in Africa Kente Cloth (Color 039/002).

This skein is 468 Yards / 100 Grams of 75% Merino (Superwash) / 25% Nylon.

I had knit several pairs of socks but none for my son. He told me he liked bold colors so this was the yarn for him. After a few rounds, I could see the swathes of color emerging.

I was still in graduate school so I carried the yarn with me and snuck in knitting time when I could. Those nifty knitting tubes are great! I never worried about losing stitches since there were long periods between my knitting sessions.

Things seemed to go faster once I cast on the second sock.

Just look at those rich colors!

As soon as I finished knitting them, my son tried them on and I haven’t seen them since.

I tried to get a photo of them on his feet but he was gone back to college before I had a chance. I guess he liked them.

Weaving in the Mayan Tradition

During our trip to Lago Atitlán, I had the opportunity to learn how to weave on a backstrap loom. My instructor, Rosa, was from the Asociación de Mujeres Tejedoras con Tinte Natural Lema’. The women in Lema’ are Tz’utujiles, a Native American Mayan ethnic group. While I was able to communicate in Spanish, most of the women spoke with each other in their native Tz’utujil language.

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The association’s mission is as follows:

We are Tz‘utujiles women. By making these handmade textiles with natural dyes and colors, we are keeping our ancestral Mayan culture and tradition. This association provides work, especially for women, hoping to increase the quality of our living in our village, San Juan la Laguna.

The corner storefront is filled with beautiful handmade textiles. The Mayan motifs and patterns could be found on table runners, scarves, small bags, huipiles, and belts.

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There were sturdy handwoven baskets in simple yet beautiful designs.

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I thought these would make great cosmetic bags.

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I regret not buying this belt. It is incredibly detailed and covered in strawberries.

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In one section of the store, they had samples of the natural cotton used to make yarn.

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Also on display were the plants from which they created natural dyes.

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All of the dyes were made from plants native to the area.

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I signed up for the class one evening and was able to select the colors for the scarf I was going to weave. I selected this deep red made from the crushed seeds of the achiote tree.

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The next morning, the threads had been set up on the loom and several inches had been started. My instructor, Rosa, then strapped the loom onto me until we got the right tension. Then began the rhythmic process of weaving. Lift the green section of threads with the beater – here, a flat piece of wood sanded through use – and throw the shuttle with the yellow thread through the opening. The beater is then turned so it lays flat and pushed down over the threads to line them up tightly. I was mesmerized by how the colors shifted after pulling down on the shed and heddle rods – the two horizontal sticks (second and third from the top). From time to time, I wasn’t able to catch all the threads when I threw the shuttle. Rosa’s capable hands would step in and correct my mistake and show me what I had done. I wove, slowly, for a couple of hours. I finally got into a rhythm and could tell for myself when I had missed a thread. Rosa stepped out for a while but her daughter kept watch over me.

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When Rosa came back, she helped me finish the scarf. It took her 20 minutes to complete the number of inches it had taken me two hours to weave! And here is my scarf – woven on a backstrap loom in the Mayan tradition.

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If you ever venture to Guatemala, Lago Atitlán is a must-stop. Spend a few days going from village to village as each has its own special character. When you go to San Juan La Laguna, stop by Lemá and say hello to Rosa for me. You can find Lemá on Facebook or Instagram or contact them via email at asociacionlema01@gmail.com or phone at (502) 586 68446.

When our trip was over, we took a small motorboat across the lake to another village where our driver would pick us up. That trip across the lake was magical.

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As I rode across the lake,

With the wind blowing back my loose hair,

I closed my eyes and turned my face to the skies.

As the hot sun warmed my face,

I imagined I was an indigenous Mayan woman

Crossing the lake to trade in the neighboring village.

It was as if my own ancestors emerged from my being.

Fermented by the Mayan sun,

My face reflected on the waters of Atitlán

And captured the hopes of the women who came before me.

And I smiled.

I was home.

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Botanical Dyes and Motifs in the Textiles of Lago Atitlán

This past April, my husband and I enjoyed a long weekend along the banks of Lago Atitlán in Guatemala. Getting there from Guatemala City was a 5-hour, bumpy and circuitous ride up the mountains. When we arrived, it was almost dark, and the fog obscured a full view, but what I could see was beautiful. The lake seemed to go on forever.

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(Source)

Lago Atitlán was once called “the most beautiful lake in the world” by German explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Lago Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America at 1,049 feet (320 meters) deep and is approximately 12 kilometers long. It is surrounded by villages whose inhabitants are Tz’utujil, an ethnic group of the Maya civilization.

The vegetation is lush and abundant with fruit trees and flowering greenery. Coffee beans grow along the mountainsides and locals work at harvesting them for exporting.

They say that this mountain top resembles the face of a Maya ancestor.

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The villages each have their own personalities. We stayed at San Pedro La Laguna which draws backpackers from all over the world. The streets along the banks of the river are dotted with bars and hostels catering to youthful travelers. We stayed in a one-bedroom apartment in the home of an English teacher, a short walk from restaurants and coffee bars but far enough away from the noise. My goal was to visit San Juan La Laguna, a neighboring village known for its cooperatives of women weavers. For 10 quetzales, we took a dusty 10-minute tuk-tuk ride to get there. Our first stop was at the Asociación de Mujeres en Colores Botánico. According to their brochure:

We are a multigenerational collective of 48 women weavers from San Juan La Laguna. We work together to support each other and our families through the sales of our traditionally crafted textiles since 1971.

We met Cristina, a member of the cooperative, who explained the spinning and dying process. The textiles are woven out of locally grown white and brown cotton.

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The cotton is picked, cleaned and hand spun with a support spindle and bowl, as demonstrated by Cristina.

Cristina then explained each of the natural dyes used to add color. All of the dyes are extracted from flora that grows around Lago Atitlán.

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To obtain shades of red, they crush the seeds from the pods of the achiote tree (scientific name: Bixa orellana). The pulverized seeds are heated in water to produce rich reds.

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I was surprised to learn that the avocado seed produces a dye. The seed is dried and left until it begins to disintegrate. It is then ground and boiled to release a green dye.

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The buds and seed pods of the pericon plant (scientific name: Hypericum perforatum) produce green and yellow colors. The plant is native to Mexico and Guatemala and grows wild in previously cultivated land or near milpas.

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The bark of the ilamo (a type of birch tree) produces red and yellow dyes, from the outer and inner bark, respectively.

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Flor de Muerto (or Mexican Marigold) is used for yellow dyes.

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Sacatinta (scientific name: Justicia tinctorea) produces dyes of various shades, hence its common name (“saca” from the verb “sacar” meaning to remove or take out; “tinta” for dye). According to Cristina, you can get as many as five hues from one pot of sacatinta.

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We watched as the skein of cotton yarn began to turn a deep purple upon oxygenation.

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To remember our visit, we selected this textile dyed with indigo. It is meant to be a wrap although we plan to use it as a decorative element at the end of a bed.

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Cristina explained the motifs on the textile. The milpa (or maize field) is an ancient agricultural method of the Maya. Areas of land are cultivated to grow corn and other crops. After a couple of years of harvest, the ground is left fallow to regenerate itself. Typically, women use the back strap loom to weave while men use a larger foot-pedal loom. The figure of a woman, or ixoq in the Tz’utujil language, is a recurring motif.

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The árbol de ilamo, used so frequently for its dyes, is represented.

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The next motif represents a freshwater crab found in Lago Atitlán, followed by a fish.

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The last motif in this textile is of Tikal, a pre-Columbian city from the Maya civilization.

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To learn more, we brought home this book about the botanical dyes of the region. It is organized in three major sections covering natural dyes from trees, fruits and plants. Each section contains recipes for creating the natural dyes and examples of the colors that each produces.

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You can find the Asociación de Mujeres en Colores Botánico on Facebook (@ColoresBotanico).

Spurts of Knitting

Somehow between running multivariate regressions, drawing supply and demand curves, case studies and five forces analyses, I found time to knit.

The projects took longer to complete as I fit in spurts of knitting between exams and assignments. These socks started out at Mom’s house so it was fitting that they be for her.

This is the first time I used a Schoppel Crazy Zauberball and what a joy it was to knit. The colorway is Papagei (parrot). The colors flowed into each other languorously. Row by row, the transitions morphed into rich textured colors.

Knitting these socks was like a process of discovery wondering what the next color combination would look like.

These were a labor of love knitted in small spurts. The time out from school was like a special treat, like smoking cigarettes behind the gym between classes.

Mom loved them. She called to tell me she put them on as soon as she opened the package. Her feet were cold and she was trying to get comfortable. From my hands to her feet. Feet that paced the floor while she held me in her arms, scurried around the kitchen while she prepared dinner and which stayed firmly planted while she scolded me for some childhood transgression.

I didn’t tell her they were in the mail. I could almost see her ripping the package open wondering what was in it. I hope she wears huge holes in them.

 

From Beginning to End, Popular Mexican Traditions

Working full-time and pursuing an MBA do not leave very much free time. Immediately after the new year, there was a gap of about a week before major assignments were due. We took advantage of this opportunity for a trip to México City, only a two-hour flight from Houston. There was the added benefit that Cornell has a board room of students in México City and I was able to join them for class.

The purpose of the trip was to show our son some of the many treasures of México. We went on a whirlwind tour of murals, pyramids, cathedrals, archaeological ruins, culture and gastronomy. Along the way, my husband and son appeased me by allowing me to look for interesting textile arts.

We could have spent days walking through the vast National Museum of Anthropology. The museum features grand salons for every major period of Mexican history. We made a beeline toward the magnificent Piedra del Sol (Stone of the Sun), which is often incorrectly called the Aztec calendar. The Stone of the Sun is 3 feet deep, almost 12 feet wide and weighs almost 25 tons.

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The stone “depicts the five consecutive worlds of the sun from Aztec mythology. …it is an elaborately carved solar disk, which for the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures represented rulership. At the top of the stone is a date glyph (13 reed) which represents both the beginning of the present sun, the 5th and final one according to mythology, and the actual date 1427 CE, thereby legitimizing the rule of Itzcoatl (who took power in that year) and creating a bond between the divine and mankind.

(Source: http://www.ancient.eu/Sun_Stone/)

Textiles

After staring at awe at the massive stone, we wandered through various halls and came across these ancient textiles of the indigenous Nahua.

“Clothing distinguishes the indigenous groups of México and even within one group. Among the Nahuas each subgroup, each region and even each village has its own way of dressing. Each pattern conserves a tradition, each design speaks of knowledge maintained over the centuries, each form represents a way of seeing the world.”

(Source: Museum placard)

Basketry

We saw woven bags and baskets made from hard fibers such as junco, bejuco, palm and carrizo.

Weaving

This is a reproduction of a typical home in the village of Contla in the state of Tlaxcala. According to the museum placard, rustic pedaled looms were installed in any available space.

Crafts

A day at the Saturday Bazaar in San Ángel yielded a wonderful surprise. Since we were there right after Christmas, we saw all the winning entries for the Primer Concurso Nacional, “De Principio a Fin, Tradiciones Populares Mexicanas” (First National Competition, “From Beginning to End, Popular Mexican Traditions”). Themes revolved around the Day of the Dead and Christmas.

Las piezas que se elaboran con motivo de estas festividades, dan cuenta de la compleja concepción de la vida humana y de la constante interacción entre la vida y la muerte dentro de la cultura popular mexicana.

The pieces that are created for these festivities tell the story of the complex idea of life and the constant interaction between life and death within popular mexican culture.

(Source: Event signage. Translations are mine.)

Nacimiento tejido en palma natural maciza y tierna, elaborada con técnica de esfera. 38 piezas.

Nativity woven from natural strong and tender palm constructed with a spherical technique. 38 pieces.

Carro alegórico con ofenda tradicional del Día de muertos, elaborado con fibra de trigo. Tiempo de elaboración: 1 semana

Allegorical vehicle with a traditional offering of the day of the dead, constructed with wheat fibers. Time to produce: 1 week.

“Los animales van a ver el nacimiento”
Tira bordada con hilo de algodón mercerizado con punto fino. Tiempo de elaboración: 4 meses

“The animals go to see the nativity.” Embroidered strip with mercerized cotton thread with a fine point. Time to produce: 4 months.

Nacimiento con bordado fino mazahaua en manta de algodón.

Finely embroidered nativity on cotton cloth in the style of the Mazahaua people.

“La tradición de mi pueblo”
Servilleta elaborada en telar de cintura, con técnica de brocado, tenida con tintes naturales: caracol púrpura y algodón coyuchi verde.

“The tradition of my village.” Napkin woven on a backstrap loom with brocade technique and tinted with natural dyes: purple snails and organic green cotton.”

“Nacimiento tradicional de Cuetzalan del Progreso. Puebla.”
Telar de cintura de algodón azul, bordado de brocado.
Tiempo de elaboración: 1 mes

“Traditional nativity of the city of Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla.” Blue cotton on a backstrap loom embroidered in brocade. Time to produce: 1 month

Tapiz de Nacimiento Mexicano, elaborado en telar de cintura de algodón con doble alzadera y puntas de flecos.
Tiempo de elaboración: 1 mes

Tapestry of the Mexican Nativity, woven on a backstrap loom out of cotton with fringe. Time to produce: 1 month

These are only a sampling of the many handicrafts we saw during our trip. More to come.

Back when I used to knit socks…

Some time before starting graduate school, I had time to knit socks.

Guy Sock in progress

This yarn came from Knitty City on New York’s upper west side between Amsterdam and Broadway. The place is long and deep and has a huge selection of yarn, all neatly arranged in cubbies and baskets.

Knitty City - NYC
208 West 79th St., New York, NY 10024, pearl@knittycity.com, 212-787-5896

Knitty City - Yarn Cubbies

It was a bit narrow (like so many little shops in the city) but that did not deter a table full of knitters from hanging out and gossiping about everyone and everything!

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As has become my habit of late, I spent most of the time perusing the sock yarns. That bottom cubby was brimming with Alpaca Sox.

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These were to be guy socks but I still wanted them to have pops of color. The yarn is Schachenmayr Regia Design Line by Arne & Carlos  (75% Virgin Wool, 25% Polyamide). I think I used two 230 yard, 50 gram balls for a pair of calf-length socks. To make the yarn go farther, the heels and toes are knit in a solid black from my stash.

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These socks are very cushiony. They make a nice sporty pair to wear with sneakers or boots. The pattern is a simple K3, P1 ribbing that is way less boring than K1, P1. The full pattern can be found here.

Guy Socks - Completed

Guy Socks - Close-up

The next pair was all for me.

Confetti Sock in progress

This is the yarn I bought at Gauge during a trip to Austin, Texas. It’s Lane Cervinia’s Forever Sock Yarn (75% Superwash Wool, 25% Polyamide). It took two 230 yard, 50 gram skeins to make the pair.

Confetti Sock in progress - close-up

I loved the bright colors! They reminded me of the confetti in Easter eggs so I call these my “confetti socks.” For the pattern, I used Jaywalker by Grumperina.

1st Confetti Sock Completed

The chevron pattern is simple and complements the self-striping colors of the yarn. The color way for these socks is #72 – pink, yellow, turquoise.

Pair of Confetti Socks

Here’s the second sock on top of my stack of textbooks.

Confetti Sock - another view

My fingers are itching to cast on a new pair but multiple regression tables and p-values await.

My Ball of Fluff

I’ve been distracted lately by a ball of fluff. No, it isn’t a new skein of angora or merino yarn or fiber for spinning – it’s Tiger, our new puppy!

Tiger - In Backyard

It has been many years since I had a dog. After my last dog died, I simply couldn’t go through that heartbreak again. Also, my son had mild episodes of asthma and I didn’t want to complicate things for him. So the years went by until we became empty-nesters. Then the obsession for a dog intensified.

At first, I causally perused pictures of puppies online. Then I started “liking” all those I ❤️ Dogs posts and heart-wrenching dog survival stories on Facebook. I started dropping in at our local SPCA. Then I started earnestly searching for dogs on Pet Finder and online rescue organizations and on Craigslist. That’s how I found Tiger. One day after work, I took a detour and visited a litter of four male Maltishipoos (part Maltese, Shih Tzu and Poodle). And there was Tiger.

We call him Tiger because he pounces on everything. He pounces on his squeaky toys, my slippers and the light bugs when he’s outside at night. But mostly, he likes to sit at my feet while I’m on the computer. If I shift over a few inches, eventually he does too. And he loves tummy rubs.

Now, I venture into pet shops looking for knit and crochet puppy toys like these:Crochet Seahorse

Crochet Donuts

Of course, I had to knit something for him. I went through my stash and gathered enough leftover yarn for a small blanket.

Tiger's Blanket - Blocking

It’s a simple stockinette stitch pattern using doubled up yarn for thickness and a seed stitch border.

Tiger & Blanket

I think he likes it.

My Blanket

Now to start on knit doggie sweaters and crochet toys. Any pattern suggestions?

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.

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

(Source)

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

(Source)

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?