Monday, November 26, 2007

Sheer Jeanius




This weekend was my first Jeanius Bag workshop, which was held at Rittermere Hurst Field. It couldn't have been better.

Early Saturday morning, a winter wonderland unfolded as I turned onto Ridge Road. The trees were topped with soft snow, the road was snow covered and not too slippery and there was that special silence created by a blanket of snow. It was magical and I wasn't even there yet.

The studio door was unlocked, and the fireplace in the studio had warmed the entire room, which was all set up for our group. If you haven't been to RHF before, you must. Of all the studios I have visited, it is one of the most intimate. Like every studio, it has rugs on display - rugs of every size, colour, subject matter - it has the requisite shelves brimming with wool - large folded pieces, small specialty pieces - large bolts of backing - tables and shelves brimming with small hooking treasures, books, dyes, etc. But there's something so warm and welcoming about this space that makes it the perfect venue for a workshop.

Coffee was waiting in the kitchen. The smell of fresh baking was confirmed with squares cooling on top of the stove. The group arrived, we chatted over coffee - relishing the adventures of those who had just returned from the Hooked in the Mountains Show in Shelburn, Vermont. Eventually, we made our way back into the studio.

We were a small group, which meant lots of one-on-one time throughout the weekend. Saturday morning was spent finalizing patterns. Some people had theirs on their backing already - others were still deciding what to hook. In the group there was a polar bear (out of polar fleece), a silhouette of a horse jumping, some cats and some paisley curls (inspired by lining fabrics), a primitive heart with appliqued pennies, and a pattern adapted from the design on a much-loved-but-outgrown pair of little girl jeans.

By mid morning, everyone was pulling loops. We weren't the only ones enjoying the warmth of the studio - Tigger the cat was curled up in a wool basket, and Moose, the latest addition to the family, graced us with her presence throughout the day. We shared as many stories as there was time for and before you knew it, day 1 was done. Everyone was at different stages of completion and the goal was to have the flaps of the bags hooked and whipped by the morning, in preparation for assembly on Day 2.

Since life has a habit of intervening, not everyone completed the first phase as planned. One flap was hooked and whipped. Another person had stayed up into the wee hours and had finished her hooking. Others had busy Saturday nites, so they picked up where they left off. It didn't matter, since everyone in our intimate group got to see a couple of assembly demonstrations as soon as people were ready to roll.

At the end of day 2, two people left with bags totally finished, which was exactly what I was hoping for. How amazing to be able to begin Saturday morning and be totally finished by Sunday afternoon! Both finished bags are going to be gifts this Christmas, which is a pretty generous thing to do with your very first bag.

The remaining workshoppers have jean legs ready for when their flaps are hooked. And everyone got the see the assembly process a couple of times, so they will be well prepared to finish without me needing to be there. Everyone was already talking about their "next" bag, which confirms my suspicion that these are highly addictive.

Another eureka moment played out at the workshop as well. I realized that using a pocket from the recycled jeans and sewing it to the back of the bags would be a perfect place for cell-phones or ipods. Or you could hide it under the flap for secret treasures! The more you work with these bags, the better they get. I love that.

So, thanks to my students for making this first workshop a huge success for me. With every step, I feel more confident that there are many, many jeaniuses out there and that these bags will soon be the gift that keeps on giving.

And many, many thanks to RHF for providing the cozy, intimate venue for this perfect first workshop. To all of you reading this blog, check regularly on the RHF website (see link in my links) to find out your next opportunity to participate in a workshop here. (I know that Jeanne has one planned for February, so get yourself registered.) You'll find out for yourself what makes it so special.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

K.I.S.S.


For those of you who don't know this anagram, it means Keep it Simple Silly - or you can substitute a stronger word for the last S. It is an expression I use a lot at work in an effort to keep from over-complicating things. It's a very good adage for everyone and I should really follow it more often.

Every once in a while I stumble into a rug hooking project that reinforces how true this is. The picture with this blog is a fine example. My husband asked me if I would hook him a mat for his side of the bed at the cottage. When I asked him what he had in mind, and he told me - a brown and beige checkerboard - I thought it sounded boring. He was very certain - he didn't want a lot of colours. He didn't want a fancy design. I asked if he wanted a border - he said no. I asked if he would like a hit or miss panel on either side. He said no. He just wants a plain checkerboard - 24 x 24. Hmmmph.

So, last week I got out all my brown wools. And all my beige wools. And I cut a bunch of strips and made two big piles of the two colours. Already, I could see that perhaps this wasn't going to be so boring after all. As you can see, something wonderful happened as soon as I started mixing the textures around inside the squares of the checkerboard. There's something akin to a log cabin pattern that is happening in each of the squares. It's simple. But it's beautiful. And here I was trying to make it more complicated than it needs to be.

It's a wonderful respite from busier probjects that I have on the go, and I find I want to keep going to see how the textures in the squares look next to one another. There's something quite hypnotic about the simplicity. I think this rug will go quickly and I will write another post about it when I get it hooked and perhaps another as I finish the whipping.

I like the simplicity of this project. And there's nothing silly or stupid about it at all.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Unbraided Bliss.


Take a braided rug. Roll it up and put it on a shelf for 20+ years and ignore it.

Dial forward the 20+ years, when you realize that you probably have one or two perfect spots for it in your renovated cottage. Spots that could truly benefit from the warmth that an area rug with rich red tones would add to the beautiful pine floors.

Vaguely remember that some of the braiding had started to separate and you were constantly mending portions of the rug(probably a contributing factor to rolling it up and hiding it).

Take the rug down from the shelf and, once the dust cloud has cleared, unroll it to find that about 1/3 of the stitching has come undone (convince yourself that you would never have put it away in this condition).

Come to the realization that cotton thread (or whatever was used) has a finite life span of less than the storage period.

Vacuum the rug repeatedly - both sides, being careful not to inhale the separated braids and the many strings of busted thread.

Then sit down for three nites running with upholstery thread, a good thimble and mindless television.

Voila - 12 hours later, your braids are stitched back together - at least sufficiently (you hope) to survive a much-needed cleaning.

Lessons learned:

Even the hardiest rug will suffer the consequences of being ignored for an inordinately long period of time.

Proper storage is a much better idea - as is checking periodically on the condition of a stored rug.

Sewing a rug back together is not nearly as much fun as hooking a new one.

However, lovingly (slight overstatement) repairing this rug and getting it ready for its second life, I am now committed to finding the perfect spot.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Socks with Crocs?


As the cold winter arrives, along with the "dark", the wardrobe shift looms. Luckily, the mainstay of my wardrobe is jeans, which are a-seasonal, so not a lot to do there. But it's time to bring out all my wonderful handmade sweaters. And it's time to start wearing socks.

The two pairs shown here are ones I have knitted in the car and they are just about the nicest ones I have ever made. They are from that fabulous wool that changes colour for you - no switching of yarns required. The yarn comes with its own pattern, which has a table for multiple sizes. I couldn't quite figure out their heel instructions, but my socks do have heels, so I guess my interpretation worked.

The question is, can I wear these with Crocs? I am a big Crocs fan and in the past 4 years (my first pair were actually pre-Crocs and were called "holey soles" and were Canadian made) I have brought many people into the club. I have a couple of pairs, which I alternate so they will last longer. Also, one pair are vaguely silver, so they are my dressy Crocs.

When I chose the yarn to make these socks, the Crocs were definitely in the colour scheme. The brown and beigey striped ones are great with my silver ones. The blue striped ones are awesome with my cornflower blue ones. I'm just not sure that going outside the house with the socks and Crocs combo is such a great idea. However, the new few weeks (or time until the snow flies) will tell. Luckily, my cold season footwear is a few pairs of Blundstones and both pairs of these socks are amazing under them.

If you are tempted to try to knit some socks, go for this wonderful yarn. It may cost a bit more, but once you have knit them, you have an amazing pattern and only two ends to darn in. Yippee!

They wash incredibly well. The feel on your feet is heaven. And if you are patient and a good scout, you can find the sock wool on sale quite often. The basement at Romni wools (on Queen St. W. in Toronto) often has balls of this sock wool for half price.

So bring it on, old man Winter. I am ready for you. Or at least my feet are. I think I will make a few more pairs, since they are so easy to take along to the cottage. And I will try to leave my Crocs out of the future colour choices.

Friday, November 2, 2007

There’s something about Mount Mary.


For those of you who aren’t familiar, Mount Mary is the retreat where, for more than 30 years, the OHCG School has taken place every fall. It is a magical place. From the moment you drive through the front gates, you know you are somewhere very special.

The retreat is housed on hundreds of acres in the beautiful town of Ancaster. Stands of majestic evergreens, punctuated by charming stucco buildings paint a serene picture that is echoed throughout the entire weekend. It’s a quiet place that inspires reflection in even the chronically stressed.

All sorts of wildlife can be seen scampering around the grounds, along with locals who hike through the property with or without their dogs. The lawns are perfectly manicured and the foliage on the deciduous trees on this fall weekend provides a spectacular palette of colours.

This was my first time at the OHCG School, despite having heard nothing but positive things about it. For many reasons, it is the perfect school for me. I need only take one day off work versus a whole week, and it’s less than an hour’s drive from home. I’m not sure why I hadn’t been before. But I am here to sing the praises of this fabulous experience, which I will definitely repeat.

The school itself is wonderful. There is an excellent selection of class topics, which the students get to vote on each year for the next. The classrooms are large, clean and uncluttered with lots of room to hook. My class had just two students at each large table, with lots of space in between.

There is something quietly captivating about the main building. It has a distinct personality all its own. The old wood is in incredible shape, and the building doesn’t have that tired look shared by so many of the same vintage. The floors are the cleanest I have ever seen. I guess the “inside shoes” policy truly makes the difference.

Accommodations are a mix of single and double rooms in the Manor and Villa which are a lovely walk from where the classes are held. They have more than ample shower facilities and my single room even had its own sink and vanity. Linens and towels are provided, along with extra blankets and pillows.

There is a large common room in the Villa where people gather for coffee in the morning and then again after class to share their day. Very comfortable chairs are in abundance for those who just can’t stop hooking. And the evenings' social activities take place in this welcoming space as well.

The food is lovingly prepared by the nuns and other staff - and more than meets my criteria for the ideal meal - one that is made for you, served to you and cleaned up after by someone other than you. There are three hot meals a day, including a variety of breakfast options and a homemade dessert with each lunch and dinner. And cookies and/or muffins at coffee break. Yum.

There are multiple vendors on site, who seemed to be doing a brisk business every time I took a student down there. Everything you could wish for in a “hooking store” is there for the choosing.

One of the finest knitting shops ever, The Needle Emporium is right across the street from the front gates of the retreat. Since many of us are chronic knitters as well as hookers, there is lots of inspiration to be found in that other passion. You can spend your money on the way in, or wait until Friday or Saturday after class.

So, with all this going for it, I was a little surprised by the attendance. This year there were only 63 students. Some branches of the OHCG were extremely well represented - Georgetown had 18 people there. Ottawa had a good number as well as Kingston. There were many first-timers there, but there were also a number of people who have been coming since the beginning.

I think that maybe amid all the others, this “little school that can” is getting lost among the bigger ones. And that is very unfortunate indeed. It’s the perfect 3-day school for each and every OHCG member, and the word “retreat” keeps coming back as the most apt descriptor. It’s so easy to get to - so easy to enjoy - and doesn’t need as big a commitment as some of the others.

I will personally go back to my branch and talk it up for next year. I will become an evangelist for the OHCG School and for Mount Mary. There’s definitely something about both that shouldn’t be missed.