Monday, January 30, 2012

Imaginary friends

  My imaginary friends are very interesting people. That's what I call people I get to know on the internet such as other members of Ravelry or authors of interesting blogs. One of my favorite blogs about knitting is Asplund knits by a Swedish guy. Although we haven't met, we've exchanged enough comments and messages that I feel he is one of my realer imaginary friends.
  In a recent post, he had photos of an fantastic sweater he is knitting. The thing I appreciate about Mr. Asplund's knitting is that even if he uses a pattern, he makes many interesting modifications to it. (I also like it that he doesn't have the entire thing planned out in advance, because it makes me feel more normal to know that other people do that too.) This particular sweater features a detail at the shoulder of black and white checks. Since then, he has also posted pictures of a very cunning facing for the sleeve cuff that is also checkerboard. I love little semi-hidden details like that. He also put his initials in the gusset under the arm.
  His checkerboards got me thinking about how many cultures value checkerboard patterns. Mr. Rududu and I were in Peru four years ago and discovered that checkerboards have been very important there for centuries. There is a traditional religious offering cloth woven in Peru that consists of just 4 squares in natural alpaca colors. Here' an example I saw at El Centro de Textiles Traditionales del Cusco. Among the offerings are coca leaves, which don't give you a buzz but certainly do help with the discomfort of being at a very high altitude.
   Amazingly, these warp-faced offering clothes traditionally have no cut edges; all four sides are selvedges. They do this by making a discontinuous warp. This mind-bogglingly difficult technique involves using two sets of warp threads that loop together in the middle. Then they fill in all of the warp by eventually inserting the weft with needles as the space gets smaller and smaller. This must take a very long time.
   Aside from the somewhat magical aspect of weaving something with selvedges on all sides, Peruvian weavers don't like to waste their warp thread, which stands to reason since it's all hand spun and is a precious commodity. To clarify how they made these checkerboards, here is a photo of a weaver finishing up a piece by using every single bit of her warp.
You can see she has very little space left to separate the yarns (make a shed in weaver's parlance) and there is a needle laying on her weaving that she can use to feed the yarn through that space since it is now too tiny to use a shuttle. In the photo she is beating down the weft thread with a bone tool.
  Finally, here is a somewhat more elaborate use of a checkerboard design in an old weaving displayed at the Archeological Museum in Lima. It makes me want to polish off my double-knitting techniques. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

The tale of the Jaguarundi

  Yesterday we went to a new reserve in Monteverde called Curi-cancha. They don't have a web site yet, but you can find them on Facebook. The walk started out with the exciting spotting of a Red Brocket Deer (Mazama americana), an animal we had never seen before. Unlike the common White-tailed Deer we see so often in Wisconsin, this deer freezes completely immobile for several minutes when it feels in danger. That made it an excellent photo subject.
  Within minutes we were watching a group of six Golden-browed Chlorophonias (Chlorophonia callophrys) in a single tree.  We've never seen so many of this pretty little bird in one place. They were hopping about quite excitedly, so I was delighted that Mr. Rududu managed to get his photo.
  A little farther along the trail, we saw our first Resplendant Quetzal of the year, a beautiful male. He wasn't quite as easy to take a picture of since he was high in a tree full of leaves.
  It's easier to find a quetzal if you know where the fruiting wild avocado trees are. This quetzal was near a tree with fairly large fruit for a wild avocado. The layer of flesh is quite thin; the pit is very large. The quetzals swallow the fruit whole and then regurgitate the pit.
   Later, a fairly large mammal crossed the trail. I didn't see it and Mr. Rududu only saw the tail. Looking it up later in The Natural History of Costa Rican Mammals by Mark Wainwright, he decided it was the tail of a large cat called a Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi). There's no photo of this fleeting experience so I'm calling it the tale of the jaguarundi. Maybe that's just because I'm extremely envious. We've been told they are common in the reserve and it is the most commonly seen wild cat in Central America.
  It is always amazing to those new to tropical birding that it can be very difficult to see a parrot (or many parrots) in a tree when the air is filled with their raucous calls. Their bright green feathers make them very hard to see among the leaves. Even in this photos, it's a bit hard to see the White-front Parrot (Amazona albirons).
I'm really looking forward to exploring Curi-cancha Reserve more. Perhaps I will return with a tale.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What we saw from the porch

   It's exciting to get back to Costa Rica every year. It's not just leaving the cold and snow of Wisconsin behind—it's also the profusion of new things to see. On our stay at the University of Georgia Ecolodge this week, some of our best nature sightings were in the immediate vicinity of the main building, thanks to the general profusion of nature. I saw an American Redstart, the first one seen on the property. I have no photo of it flying past me, I'm afraid, but it lifted my heart to see it.
   There was a marvelous large praying mantis wandering about the porch. See how cunningly the wings look like leaves and the legs like twigs.
There was a lizard in nearby plants that was shedding its old skin.
Soon there was a lizard eating the praying mantis because it jumped into the plants where the lizard was. (The lizard was not fooled by the mantis's cunning camouflage.)
    One of the most common birds in Costa Rica is the lovely blue gray tanager. One just doesn't get tired of looking them, especially when it's been about seven months since the last one.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My year in temari

 I started stitching temari at the beginning of 2011 and got swept away by the fun of it all. Now I have TCP (temari containment problems). I've given some away; I obviously need to ramp up that effort. Or possibly stitch very small temari. Or very complex ones that take longer. Or accept that being buried in lovely temari is maybe not such a problem.
   Because I knit a lot too, I tend to compare knitting to stitching temari. After all, both are hobbies involving string. OK, temari cannot keep you warm—but it's fun to create things in colors that one doesn't want to wear. Compared to my knitting projects, temari are quick. I never knit something that takes less than a day; many of my knitting projects are measured in months, not hours. Even though finished temari take up quite a bit of space, the stash involved in making them is quite small compared to knitting stash. (Or maybe that's just what I think now.) The good part is that I don't have to choose between the two hobbies.
   Most of the temari in the group shot are designs found in a great book for beginners: Japanese Temari; A Colorful Spin on an Ancient Craft by Barbara B. Suess. I have now stitched all 25 designs in the book. It was an excellent way to add to my temari skills. The designs get progressively more difficult as the book goes on, although it's certainly possible to stitch them in a slightly different order as I did.
   A few of the temari I stitched this year were my own designs such as the one of the Morpho butterfly. I also stitched some designs I found on the Temarikai web site. It's an very good resource for temari stitchers.
   I just finished the very last design in Barb Suess's book. I just love the way it came out and I almost can't believe that I managed to do this. And you know what? This just makes me want to stitch more temari.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Leftover satisfaction

   There is something particularly satisfying about using up yarn left over from a previous project. I've had a couple of projects lately to use up some Kauni yarn. I love its long color changes but I sometimes need to edit out particular colors.
I took the large amount left from my Maya Dreams sweater and knit a big garter stitch shawl. It's so big that I photographed it folded up.
This was perfect to knit while watching TV. (For one thing, watching TV kept my mind off how long it took to do a single row as I approached the end. An outside row was 94 inches/240 cm long as it went along two sides of the triangle. That's almost 8 feet! I have no idea how many stitches.) I didn't time it, but I'm sure it took me over two hours to cast off the edge. I cast on a few stitches and increased one stitch on each edge and two stitches at the center on every other row. It was knit garter stitch alternating two balls of yarn.
   Usually one ball was grey and the other ball was something else like green or blue or purple. I'm very happy with the way it turned out. I suppose it I get very cold I can wear both my sweater and shawl since they were knit from the same colorway and therefore match very well.
  The other Kauni I had left over was a small amount of the rainbow colorway from my Obsession Sweater.

I knit a tam because I wanted to know my gauge when combining Kauni and 2 ply jumper yarn from the Shetlands. I'm planning to use that combination on an upcoming sweater: using grey as the background for Kauni colorway EL that shades from blue to purple. So here is my Rainbow Leftovers tam. The crown is all Shetland as I was out of green in Kauni. I got the crown pattern from Knitted Tams by Mary Rowe.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cool ice

  Although it has been a mild winter in Wisconsin so far this year, some ice has formed on the lakes this week. Ice that breaks up and refreezes can make some interesting effects.
 The American Coots migrating south are concentrated into the area where the Yahara River enters Lake Monona.
   And if the natural ice isn't interesting enough, a neighbor makes interesting ice sculptures by freezing dyed water outside in household containers and stacking them in the yard.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Holy koi!

 There are actually quite a few people in Wisconsin that say "Holy cow!" as an exclamation of surprise and wonder. It's one tick up from wow. I'm so impressed by Mr. Rududu's recent origami koi that I'm thinking of changing the expression to "Holy koi!" The model is published in Dollar Origami by Won Park. Folding the model with a dollar bills results in really wonderful eyes.
   This is by no means a model for beginning folders. To practice until he could find some really crisp new bills, Mr. Rududu cut some of his current favorite paper, Elephant Hide, to the same proportions. (He ordered big sheets of Elephant Hide from Paper Jade.) We decided that it would be fun to make some koi with orange spots, so I used some acrylic paint to add orange splotches on both sides before the paper was folded. Mr. Rududu said that in spite of vigorous manipulation, the paint did not flake or chip. I think it's a good alternative to dollar bills.
I think they are beautiful. They also go well with my latest temari.
 The nitty-gritty: The pattern for the temari can be found in Japanese Temari by Barbara B. Seuss. I chose my own colors.