June, July, and Apparently now a bit of August

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

Against my best plans, I may have let the blogging/social media slip a bit in June and July.  


Before the excuses, a quick and very exciting note:  I will be vending at the Squam Art Fair on September 15, from 7:30 to 10:00.   I am so excited to be included in such an amazing group of vendors!  (And I really hope that I’ll be able to pull together a few new kits I’ve been planning in time, which brings me back to the excuses). 


Back to the excuses:

Unexpected pregnancy induced exhaustion limited my work time this summer and what energy I had often went to baby centric things - baby shower, painting baby things, and the part time job that is meeting all the doctors appointments scheduled as part of a “geriatric pregnancy” (and aside from being “elderly”, both I and the as-yet-unborn-baby are thankfully in perfect health - I cannot imagine how much more medically intense things must become if there are issues).  

Pregnancy induced exhaustion recently morphed into pregnancy induced insomnia, which has at least given me the time to sew crib sheets for the fancy oval crib inherited from my sister-in-law.  When passing along the crib she mentioned the difficulty of getting a new sheet in the correct orientation on the oval mattress during the inevitable three AM  accident clean-ups, to which I sensibly thought “oh-ho, I shall just embroider a french knot or something so that I can line the sheet up along the long ends by feel”.   And then somehow I decided a french knot was boring, and given that I wasn’t sleeping and it was too hot to knit…  

I can now sew fitted sheets and embroider sheets but I still cannot fold fitted sheets.

I can now sew fitted sheets and embroider sheets but I still cannot fold fitted sheets.


So now I have four home sewn sheets with hand-embroidered whales. 

 A few days ago we discovered that my sister-in-law had also given us several crib sheets, which somehow got mixed in with a box of baby clothes.  So the home sewn sheet part was probably completely unnecessary.  Still, it was a fun project. 

 Not being able to carry the buckets and pots of water necessary for dyeing has led me to catching up on other projects, most too boring and administrative to bother describing, but amongst the other chores I finally downloaded the photos that have been accruing on my working SSD card, and came across this gem of an outtake from a mid-February photo session.  Note my hand settled gently and proudly atop my (invisible) belly.  I am fairly sure the impetus for this photo session, aside from the desire to document the progress of my heavily modified Solbien cardigan turned dress, was the discovery that my vague feelings of becoming a little thick around the middle had solidified into an actual baby bump (which again, I cannot see in this photo, though I remember running downstairs to show Sam the moment I noticed it, who was equally excited). 

Also the Socialist Realist pose - I look like I’m about to do something epic for the glory of the fatherland.  

Also the Socialist Realist pose - I look like I’m about to do something epic for the glory of the fatherland.  

Yup, at 40 weeks, 6 days pregnant I have settled into the game familiar to every person who has ever been pregnant - “remember when I thought that was a belly?” 

To be fair, this Alabama Chanin A-Line dress is somehow magically also minimizing my belly, or maybe I just feel like I should be a foot or two wider.  




Back to a semi-business related note:  Any moment now (really, any moment now kiddo, but hopefully soon - I get that you are comfy in there, but you’ve had your full run and it’s time to come out and start exploring the world) we will be heading off to the Birth Center for a hopefully short stay.  There may be some delay in shipping orders and responding to emails as we all adjust to our new life.   Thank you for understanding. 

Boston Farm & Fiber Festival (also, a new work space!)

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

Many big changes afoot here at Upton Yarns HQ, but first:

This Sunday I will be vending at the first (annual, I have been assured) Boston Farm & Fiber Festival held at the Boston Public Market (!!!!!!! I am very excited about this).  The show is being hosted by the good folks of New England Farm to Fiber, on Sunday, February 11, from 10am to 5 pm. 

boston farm to fiber logo.jpg

For those of you who may not be familiar with it, the Boston Public Market hosts a collection of local artisan producers of everything from pasta to honey, and of course New England sourced yarns.  It has long been a favorite stop of mine on our "civilized" weekend strolls through Boston.  I'm already plotting my (non yarn related) buy list. 

But back to the fiber event: the vendor list, available here, is full of people I can't wait to meet in person. (The fiber related buy list may very quickly overwhelm the non-fiber related buy list...)

In other news, late this fall we officially became first time home buyers, and as of last week we have moved in (sort of, everything is still in boxes and we have not yet sorted out a reasonable internet connection, but all of our stuff is here, and things are mostly set up enough that it doesn't quite feel like we're camping anymore, which I'll take).  One of the many things that I love about our new house is the workspace off the kitchen that will soon become the new Upton Yarns HQ. 

Upton Yarns HQ 1.jpg
Upton Yarns HQ 2.jpg

(Yes, that is an industrial sewing machine under the dust cover in the corner). 

But then the movers came and very efficiently moved everything from the old Upton Yarns HQ to the new space. 

Upton Yarns HQ 3.jpg


Dyeing may be a bit delayed while I make sense of all of this chaos......

Shop update - many colors of Straw's Farm Island Sheep fingering weight!

by Sarah Lake Upton in , ,

I still have a few more colors in the works, but I wanted to get these up when I had the time. Check out the new colors on the Fingering Weight page.  (Still to come, a hunter green, dark gray, light gray, and maybe a few more blues?). 

For example - check out the Fingering Weight page to see more.

In other news, we bought a house yesterday.  A whole house.  With a very cool barn.  And a work space for Upton Yarns. It doesn't quite feel real yet. 

The Stormy Drake: or, my return to the world of yarn will be delayed

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

I was meant to finish up my Antarctic contract and fly home from Punta Arenas, Chile on August 4 but the Southern Ocean has been a bit stormy of late and we are delayed.  Currently we are hiding in Gerlache Straight area near the tip of the Antarctic Penninsula,  in fairly calm seas but high winds.  It is snowing sideways.

All of us are missing something at this point, weddings, birthday parties, planned vacations, but to a person we all looked at the weather forecasts, and the strength of the storms roaring through the Drake and said, "yup, let's stay here".

And so we are. But that doesn't make missing events planned for months in advance any less frustrating.

I still have hopes that I will make to it the Wool Scout retreat hosted by Sarah Hunt of FIberTrek, but it is beginning to look like it might be a stretch.   My best hope at the moment is to fly out from Punta Arenas on the 10th, which has me (if all connections are on time) in Boston the afternoon of the 11th, but that leaves me with the wrong luggage for summer (even in Maine) and no indigo supplies, so a quick dash home to Worcester, and then the drive to MIllinocket to meet the float plane on the 12th.  All doable in theory if I forgo sleep.

We are making the best of our delay, following in the long tradition of mariners waiting out Antarctic weather.  A cribbage tournament was promptly arranged, and a lecture series quickly followed.  Attempts are being made to form a band.  Yesterday morning a nuclear physicist and I worked together to make bean bags (using beans generously donated by the galley) for a game of corn hole, tournament to be organized shortly.  No one has started a newspaper yet, but if our weather window doesn't materialize on the 5th I suspect that might be next.

Thank you to all pink yarn buyers

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


I am writing this from the departures gate of Logan Airport, bound for Costa Rica and the start of my six weeks on the boat. Yesterday was full of last minute errands and packing, interspersed with moments of feeling worried about what the country might look like when I return in mid-March.  So it felt very very good to be able to send a donation to the ACLU in the name of all the folks who purchased pink yarn last week (in addition to my normal monthly donation).  Thank you thank you for making the additional donation possible.


And on a semi related note, I am technologically in a bit of a bubble and the cool kids probably all know about the Countable App, but I just learned about it yesterday, downloaded it to my phone, and can tentatively add my own recommendation for doing the same.  It tracks upcoming bills in much greater detail and timeliness than most media outlets and makes it easy to find out how your reps voted so you can call to thank them/hold them accountable.  And best of all former NPR people with names I recognize are running the thing, which goes a long way towards establishing its reputation (for me anyway).


Another political action site that I can now heartily recommend is 5calls.org, a website that makes it easy to pick an issue and make phone call to the correct person (no more trying to figure out if the bill or person you are for/against is in the House or Senate).  It even provides you with a script to use, whichever position on the issue you take, which is really helpful if you are like me a bit uncomfortable talking about these issues in quick sound bites .


All these phone calls and protests may seem like yelling into the wind, but a bill proposing to sell public lands was just withdrawn from consideration after the bill's sponsor received an overwhelming negative response to the idea, and two republican senators have changed their votes on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education due to phone calls from their constituents.  Calling gets easier with practice.  We can do this.


n Which I have been Home for Five Weeks and Many Things Happened, or, New Yarn and a New Apartment!

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

First, the big news:  my husband has been accepted into a graduate program at Clark University in GIS.  On the positive side, the program is one of the best in the country in this field, employment potential post graduation is very high, and he is genuinely interested in the subject and the actual work.  On the down side, Clark is in Massachusetts, and so I spent much of my time home anxiously refreshing Craigslist Worcester trying to find the elusive perfect apartment that is near Clark and also accepts dogs (of the two of us, I am far pickier about where we live, so the apartment hunting falls to me).  We finally succeeded in finding the right apartment, though I am superstitious enough about such things that until we have actually moved in I will not say for sure that we have the apartment, and I will not fully relax about it.  Neither one of us want to leave Maine, but it will only be for a few years, and then we will be back (fingers crossed).  In the mean time I will continue to buy fleece from the same Maine farmers who have supplied me with such lovely fleece in the past, and explore the potential of flocks in western Massachusetts, of which I hope there are many.   Astute observers will notice that I no longer list “Maine” after “Natural Dyes, New England wool” on my yarn tags.  I have left that space blank, because I can’t bring myself to list “Massachusetts”.  I mean no offense to folks who are from Massachusetts (my dad grew up outside of Boston) but New England is full of regional chauvinism, and folks from Massachusetts are the first to understand that to other New Englanders “Massachusetts” carries a certain something.  That said, I am looking forward to getting to know a new city. 

3 Ply Coopworth Sportweight 

3 Ply Coopworth Sportweight 

Astute observers will also notice that I mentioned new yarn tags, because while have been home I have also been dyeing up a storm.  My 2015  3-Ply Coopworth Sportweight is available in a very purposeful looking color run, which is one of those happy accidents of natural dyes since the only color I actually planned was the deep red Pomegranate, and everything else followed.   This batch of yarn was spun to a slightly lighter weight than my previous 3-Ply sport weight which was itself on the heavy end of the spectrum for sport weight, so people who have worked with my 3-Ply sport weight previously may want to swatch again.  The yarn is available here.   

Spring is also the time to pick up fleeces.  This year I am exploring fleeces from a couple of new farms (to me).  Currently at the mill is Blue Faces Leicester from Two Sisters Farm in Waldoboro, Maine, which is being worsted spun into a light Aran weight yarn, and on Sunday the intrepid Sarah Hunt (of Fiber Trek) was good enough to lend me her time and her Subaru to transport 172 pounds of Straw’s Farm Island fleece from Straw’s Farm in Damariscotta, Maine to my workspace, from where it will be picked up on Wednesday (hopefully) to go to the mill.  The island wool will be spun into a 5-Ply Gansey yarn in support of the Cordova Gansey Project, masterminded by Dotty of the Netloft in Cordova, Alaska.  I will make a proper post about it in the future (because it deserves its own post - or series of posts) but for now, please go check out Dotty’s amazing posts of the subject.  She has managed to put so many of my very inchoate feeling about knitting and history and ganseys and the  sea into very eloquent words, and she has done in so well that the next time someone asks me about my feelings of connention to gansey knitting I may just point them to her posts. 

I return to the boat this Saturday.  I will be meeting the Sea Lion in Sitka, Alaska.  As always my time home has passed way too quickly, but I am looking forward to our Alaska season.  


Scenes from life aboard.

by upton in , ,

Christmas and New Years were working holidays for the crew of the Sea Lion.   Some of the stews tried to make things a little more festive around the crew spaces by making and hanging traditional Christmas decorations.  I wanted to hug them all for it, especially for the gem they hung outside the door to the engine room. A pefect metaphore for Christmas

Just in case it isn't quite clear, they used paper from the office recycling bin to make paper snowflakes.  I think this is the perfect metaphor for our Christmas.

Not quite two weeks later we are just beginning our second round trip from Colón, Panama to Herradura, Costa Rica and return.  This is beginning to feel oddly similar to the ferries in Maine, with no cars and a strangely long run.

Two days ago we docked at a container dock in Colón.  Between Colón and the Port of LA where we spent our annual yard period I feel like I am becoming more acquainted with industrial marine infrastructure than I ever expected to be.

CCT container dock

But it has not all been work.  Most mornings I have managed to spend a little time up on the sundeck with my first cup of coffee and my tahkli, much to the fascination/consternation of guests and crew.  I spend most of my free time immersed in the world of fiber arts/crafts, and I forget that the rest of the world does not do the same.

Tahkli on a boat

Eventually I arrived...

by upton in ,

After a complicated series of connecting flights, and nearly getting lost in the Orlando Airport, I eventually arrived in Panama City, and a bit longer after that, at the boat I work on, which was docked in Colon. Our trip so far has taken us through the Panama Canal, and up the Pacific coast bound for Costa Rica.

I woke to find us here this morning. Day 4 Ciobas National Maritime Park


The day before yesterday we were in the Panama Canal:

canal - SL and a freighter


In between we were a useful platform from which boobies hunted fish.

a flock of boobies on our bow

Ganseys! or, reasons why they are even better than you think.

by upton in ,

For many years I worked on traditionally rigged schooners (mostly the schooners used for experiential education programs, though I've also done tall ship festivals and dock tours) boats which, except for a few differences (electricity, refrigeration, engines, student crews) were constructed, rigged, and operated exactly as they would have been a hundred years ago.  Actually, several of the boats I worked on were build over a hundred years ago, and while they move students and passengers these days rather than fish and sand, the sailing is the same.  I started knitting my gansey (the second gansey I knit, the first was for my husband, knit years before I was to find boats) while living aboard the Ship Wavertree (built in 1885, now docked in the East River at what used to be Pier 15) and working aboard the Schooner Pioneer (also build in 1885, and now taking passengers on two hour sails around New York Harbor – look her up if you find yourself with a spare summer evening in NYC).  I continued to knit my gansey while working on Highlander Sea, ex Pilot (built in 1924 for the Boston Pilots Association) tearing out and re-knitting sleeves now a bit too tight, and I finally finished it while sailing north from Belize on the Harvey Gamage, three months into a four month semester at sea program for high school students.

I have since worn that gansey while doing a thousand things that would be utterly familiar to most men who wore them back in the day, furling sails, hauling lines, flaking out anchor chain, climbing aloft far too early in the morning (swearing all the while) to unfrig a fouled topsail sheet, scraping sanding and painting some bit of the boat for the nth time, carrying heavy things onto the boat, carrying heavy things off of the boat, standing at the helm at two in the morning steering by a star, fixing a bilge pump worn out from overuse for the nth time, and curled up in my bunk fully dressed and soaking wet.  At times schooner life is impossibly, romantically amazing, but more often it is cold and wet and kind of gross.

I am one of what I suspect is a small number of people currently alive who have extensively worn a gansey knit from gansey yarn in the work environment for which they were created (except for the fishing bit) and I have reached a few conclusions that I have not seen mentioned elsewhere.

Firstly, the armpit gusset really is genius: they really do give a lovely freedom of movement.  I can work with my arms above my head (a frequent occurrence on boats, especially given that I am not tall) without my gansey rutching up.  And the gussets also have a practical effect on the longevity of the gansey: every other sweater that I have worn for work ultimately tears at the underarm.  When I reach above my head most of the weight of the sweater rests on the seam where the front and back of the sweater meet the sleeve, and those few stitches will inevitably give way.  A gansey, being constructed in one piece, distributes the weight of itself far more evenly across a far greater number of stitches, and the gusset removed the weak point at the underarm entirely.

Secondly, one of the things that I have seen commonly written about ganseys, that they are “knit so tightly as to be wind and water proof” is just silly.  I knit incredibly tightly, even when I am trying to do the opposite, and my gansey is neither wind nor waterproof, even after I have dipped it in a solution of wool fat, but being wind and waterproof is not all that important: wind and waterproofness is the purview of foully jackets, these day usually coated vinyl (oilskins back in the day) but what they do do is far more important: ganseys hold their shape when wet (which on a boat is most of the time).  They neither sag, nor bag, or impede movement; wearing a sopping wet gansey is not that different from wearing a dry gansey.  Before you dismiss this, think of your favorite sweater or sweatshirt. Now think about how it bags and hangs and sticks to you weirdly and snags on everything once it gets wet. Now imagine climbing a very narrow ladder that is moving erratically, and at the top wriggling yourself through an opening barely larger than yourself, and all this just to get to the place you need to be so you can start your real work (which is generally much scarier than the climb itself).  Even modern fleece is unpleasant in this situation (actually, I’m biased, I dislike modern fleece in any situation) but I’ve done something very similar in my gansey on many occasions, and have never had cause to note that my gansey was in any way making the situation more difficult – which may seem like faint praise, but it really really isn’t.

And finally, knitting the sleeves from the top down is brilliant.  Not only does is prevent the heartbreaking moment when you realize that because of gauge differences the shoulder on your sleeve does not match the shoulder on the body of the sweater, but when the cuffs wear through, which they will, it make the repairs the work of a lazy evening.  I have re-knit the last few inches of both sleeve several times with no fuss or annoyance.