Category Archives: Photography

I went to a wool festival and all I got was a ton of photos and four pounds of raw fleece

So I have a couple new favorite things: my new 50mm lens, and wool festivals.

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A couple friends and I went to the Casari Ranch wool festival last weekend. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew it was on the ranch itself, so it’d have ranch-type stuff happening and not just fiber-type stuff. Not that I mind fiber stuff, it’s just much easier to find in craft-happy Oakland than things involving actual sheep. So a couple friends and I piled into the car and headed three hours north to Point Arena.

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Dancer the bummer, who was so tame she’d run to the fence so you could pet her.

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Like every sheep farm probably is, it was liberally decorated with sheep skulls.

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This is decor I can relate to.

We got to peer at the machinery for the wool mill, handle lots of raw fleece from different breeds and at different stages of prep, and get a feel for how to skirt and grade fleeces. I loved that part. Nothing helps you understand fiber terms like pulling on a lock of wool with a break in it and watching it dissipate into a cottony cloud, or holding a wad of lanolin-greasy wool still warm from the sheep, or watching second cuts fall like dandelion fluff through the skirting table. In the vendor area, I got to sift through whole raw fleeces and wool in every state from fleece to garments, getting a little more of the tactile knowledge you can’t get from googling. I even had a moment when I was handling a marked-down Corriedale-cross fleece and worrying that I might be missing a bargain if I didn’t buy it when it dawned on me that Oh, I can’t separate the locks at all over here, I think … I think the tips are pretty badly felted, and put it back.

Personally, what really drew me in was the shearing and its combination of force and finesse. As someone who’s always had office jobs I know it’s way too easy to romanticize hard physical work, but after years and years of pushing pixels for a living, it’s easy to get pulled in by tasks that have real, tangible results. (My favorite parts of learning to weld were testing seams by tossing a just-finished piece onto the cement for with a huge, resounding clang to see if the weld held, and bending pieces of metal by wailing on them with a hammer.) Some days it feels like my job could be easily replaced with spell check and a computer, something that’ll never happen with shearing.

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As for wool, well … I brought enough cash that I could buy a decent fleece, not that I’m that great yet at knowing what “decent” is. I’ve done some spinning with a drop spindle, but I’m still a raw novice. (That didn’t stop me from getting a spinning wheel recently, which is still in pieces as I slowly sand and refinish it.) I figured, if I’m gonna do something, why not do it in the over-the-top, sink-yourself-into-it-until-you-know-how-to-do-it way I inherited from my mom? Besides, it’s shearing season! That’s how I talked myself into my first fleece, a Jacob that’s been slouching in a chair at my kitchen table like a slightly smelly dinner guest until I have time to wash it.

All I knew before going to Casari was I wanted something that was different from a Jacob, and that it probably shouldn’t be merino, since it’ll probably be awhile before I can handle such a short staple length. I gingerly dug through bags, teased apart locks, listened for the ping of sound wool as I tugged on it, happily exclaimed over the texture of what turned out to be wool skirting that the vendor told me was really only fit for felting, worried, waited, and anxiously eyed shoppers who’d arrived earlier as they carted away fleeces of their own.

And then, of course, came home with four pounds of raw merino, which I parked in the kitchen, in the other fleece’s lap. Together in the chair, they make a pile that comes up to my shoulder when I sit at the table next to them.

I’d say I’m off to a good start.

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The lighthouse at Point Arena, which we visited after the wool festival.

Hey, it’s scenic, it works

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There’s this shawl I’m working on that’s named after mountains in Colorado, but on my last trip out there I didn’t have time to take photos of it. This weekend I managed photos but since I was nowhere near Colorado, I had to use the majestic scenery I had at hand.

Fortunately, Joshua Tree has plenty.

I’ll be picking shreds of yucca fiber from my shawl for awhile, I think, but I’m happy with the photos I got. It went OK; I should’ve gotten up even earlier than 6:30 a.m., since it was full morning by the time I got into the park around 7 and already unbearably hot when I left an hour or so later. The Mojave in summer, even the tail end of summer, is no joke.

It also would’ve been nice to have remembered a tripod. Or to have slept enough not to have panda-like rings around my eyes. Ah, well. I managed. I set up my camera on a rock and propped the lens up with a stick, and when it got too hot to stay in the sun, took some shots from a spot wedged in between the lumpy stacks of boulders that jut out of the ground throughout the park and provide the only shade.

I knitted a lot this weekend, which I always do regardless of season. People noticed more than usual  due to the hundred-degree weather and the bright colors I was working with, and some people recognized me as “the knitter” from years past at the same event.

(The event is a music thing – Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, playing in Pioneertown. It’s been happening for ten years running, and I’ve gone to — and knit at, I think — all ten.)

I’d meant to check out yarn stores when I was down there, but instead I brought home this:

Buddy

That’s Buddy. Guess I’d better get used to finding little ginger and white hairs in my knitting.

Summer knitting

Don’t get me wrong, Ukiah is gorgeous, but damned if it didn’t get hot when I was there for the weekend. The heat started to pick up around nine in the morning, hit 100º by noon and didn’t let up until deep into evening. During the day, you see why California is called the Golden State: nothing but pure blue sky and the rolling, straw-colored, sometimes oak-studded hills that cover the central and northern parts of the state for hundreds of miles.

Fortunately, I found a secret to knitting in that kind of heat: shade and lace-weight wool. The feather-light fabric doesn’t suffocate you, and tiny needles make for tiny movements that don’t get you all sweaty, while you distract yourself with pristine scenery like this:

After a recent trip to unusually sweatsock-damp and stormy Boulder, Colorado, and frying in the dry wine-country heat, it’s pretty great to be back in cloudy-cool Oakland and San Francisco.

A model model

Sometimes you go out to shoot a pattern photo, and you pull a sample for a completely different knitted item at the last minute out of your bag that you still haven’t photographed, and hand it to your friend whose dress and tights and eyes and hair all match it perfectly, and whose art school background means wearing wool on a hot day on a busy street to pose for photos is just about the least embarrassing, odd-looking thing she’s ever done on film, so she does it all with unwavering gravity, impressive naturalness and a blessed lack of squinting.

So today I got some really wonderful knitwear shots for one soon-to-be-rereleased pattern and one brand new one. An excellent day!

Hello Hi-Lo!

God bless friends and coworkers who will tolerate twenty minutes of having a camera in their face in trade for a handknit item. Especially if it’s a coworker who’d been dropping interested hints about the hat I’d been working on, and who’s worn it every day since I gave it to him, even with loose ends hanging off it before I got a chance to weave them in.

(Thanks to Iron & Steam Espresso and the owner of the Hi-Lo Club, who let us wander in and shoot photos inside. The place is so gorgeous and the drinks are great. Check it out if you’re ever around Nob Hill!)

Well.

Chautaqua Park, Boulder, Colorado.It’s been just over a year since my last post, the one about not writing after my mom’s death. Now I’m wearing a jacket that belonged to a friend of mine who died over the holidays. It has been a very long year.

It involved gaining some people, losing a few people — to mistakes, fights, deliberate distance, death  — and getting a few people back. Last spring I remember thinking “I know this is hard right now and going to stay hard for awhile, but it’ll pay off later.” It took a lot of perseverance, but I’m seeing the payoff.

I like garter stitch a lot more now that I used to. I have more patience, I think.

I caught myself making sketches for a stripy shawl (in garter stitch, natch) the other day. It’d been a long time since I’d ventured away from a pattern. What’s different? I thought. Why now?

Well, mountains helped. I recently spent a long weekend in Boulder, Colorado, walking about ten miles a day in 40-degree weather. I can’t even tell you how big the sky is out there. I bought the first snow boots I’ve had since I was a kid.

I skipped my friend’s funeral to go. I saw a show. I bought some yarn. I walked a lot. I clambered around on red rocks. I tried a lot of local beers and found a Colorado bourbon I really like. I didn’t talk much. I wrote a eulogy on the bar top at Shine. I got used to seeing cottonwood trees. I took a lot of pictures of clouds. I hadn’t traveled much in the last year, just my annual trip to Joshua Tree, and I guess I get weird if I don’t manage to get out past the Sierras.

Here’s to garter stitch and 2014.

Note to self

Dear self:

If you publish a pattern for gloves, mittens or fingerless mitts, if your main pattern photo includes mittened, gloved or mitted hands doing the following:

  • Stiffly resting against a tree
  • Stiffly resting tangent to a model’s eerily vacant face, like she’s about to nuzzle a penguin flipper
  • Stacked on top of each other like something out of a 1950s article on decorum
  • Delicately assaulting a flower or foliage (Remember, when you’re destroying shrubbery: Pinkies out!)
  • Hugging the model like she (it’s always a she, isn’t it?) was photographed mid-sob
  • Floating against an irrelevant background with stiff zombie claws
  • Cradling each other
  • Cradling a small decorative gourd
  • Cradling a mug of tea or latte
  • Cradling a fucking apple

… go punch yourself in the mouth.

The tossing-leaves thing: Don’t. Cute, but overdone.

(Also note: I’m not picking on a particular pattern; since I tend to study clothing photography way too closely, I actually did this list from memory. But a quick glance through new Ravelry patterns yields all of the above except the last one, which — whoop, never mind. Just found an apple.)

And before you say anything, ask yourself: Have you ever gingerly cupped a (tea rose / boxwood / star jasmine / piece of readily available hedge) with just the pads of your fingertips like it’s ten hours into a trip and you’ve just discovered how utterly beautiful and interconnected everything is and that the whole universe is contained in that simple, perfect thing? Were you wearing fingerless gloves? No? See? EVERYTHING IS LIES.

Now reach out that cradle that bad boy like your life depended on it.
Now reach out and cradle that bad boy like your life depends on it.