Our roaming correspondent.

Happy Hallowe’en! This years award for “Best knitted part of a costume, knit up in a pinch that actually turned out pretty good despite a loose plan and will totally end up in the dress-up box for years to come” goes to Julia. (I just made that award up. That’s why you don’t remember it from last year. I was just looking for a reason to show you her knitting). Speaking of last year, if you are hard up for a costume, revisit last years comments for ideas. A lot of them could be put together quick. Me? I don’t need a costume. I’ll be knitting the edge on the snowflake shawl,


hoping for a little more time (my inner voice keeps screaming “KNIT FASTER”, it’s very relaxing) and eating myself sick on the candy I’m supposed to be shelling out. (I’m also quite busy hoping that blocking fixes this shawl. It looks a little ratty, doesn’t it?)

In the meantime, I should hope that no-one has forgotten our roaming TSF correspondent, my brother-in-law…Ben. (Ben doubles as Director for human resources for MSF Canada, but really, he’s travelling the world pretending to work for MSF while he clearly works for TSF/ Knitters without borders.)

The other day, Ben turns up at my door and gives me this.


It’s a nice big ball of goat roving from KAZAKSTAN, and it smells like, well. I don’t know. Probably a Kazakstan goat, which is sort of interesting.


I’ve coerced Ben into doing a guest blog about getting it, and I’ve updated the TSF total in honour of his visit.

Be gentle with him. He’s a rookie.

Hi Steph,

As promised, Some photos from the wool market in Nalchik

where I bought you goat wool from Kazakstan. In fact, this photo


is the crazy old woman I bought it from, weighing it for the sale.

I was in Nalchik training management staff from MSF programmes in neighbouring Caucasus states of

Ingushetia and Chechnya. Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria is a back up base because it is considered safe. We do not have international workers based in the other places due to insecurity – especially fears of kidnapping.

The city is stunning and the people were very warm to us. On October 9th, we walked to this huge wool market on the other side of the city.


The market was filled with women at stalls selling wool and knitted goods.


The sound of knitting needles clattered everywhere as women not selling were knitting more wares.


The prices were absurdly low and I bought fancy wool socks for 35 rubles or slightly more than a Canadian dollar. You and all of your knitting friends would have been in heaven here!

Unfortunately, four days later, all hell broke loose in

Nalchik. It was certainly scary for a few hours as we could hear machine gun fire and explosions coming from all around our office – all starting during morning rush hour. The residents and national staff were in panic trying to locate their loved ones on the over-burdened cellular phone system. Of particular concern were their children in the schools, given that we were only 100 km from Beslan where the horrible school tragedy occurred last year. As things settled, it was sad to see the realization of our staff that their peaceful city was getting dragged into the broader Caucasus conflict.

Perhaps due to the global war on terror, the problems in Chechnya seem largely forgotten or ignored by the world media. But the people still suffer and many have been living for years in cramped temporary accommodation centres as much of the city of Grozny still lies in rubble. As one of our Chechen mental health workers told me, “we have a Beslan every day here.”



Note from Steph: S. Kate and I are still working on a viable plan for the pins. In the meantime, because the total is higher and giving stuff away is fun…

Pins go to Sandra D and Nicole L. (I’ve emailed you both) and this beautiful roving from Jen at Sprit Trail Fiberworks


goes to Barb B. (Aren’t you a spinner Barb? Lucky break that. I emailed you.) Singlesspirittrail

And this beautiful hand spun singles from the same roving

goes to Rossana L. (I emailed you too.)

Happy Hallowe’en.

48 thoughts on “Our roaming correspondent.

  1. Wonderful gift, wonderful guest blog, wonderful brother-in-law. I am blessed with six brothers-in-law, all of whom say, “You knit WHAT? You DO know you can buy socks at WalMart, right?” sigh…
    The shawl is gorgeous!
    Going now to knit tiny socks for my friend’s new granddaughter.

  2. The pictures are so wonderful! I will be taking a break from some of my knitting time to attend a halloween party out on the street around the corner from my house… probably dressed as a cowgirl since I already have the hat, jeans and flannel. Happy Halloween Stephanie!

  3. My dad worked in Kazakstan for a number of years – he said the people there were magical, so welcoming and generous especially since where he was working they hadn’t been paid in almost a year!
    Cool goat roving.

  4. I still have my bracelet to give away too! And of course there’s your GORGEOUS mittens. If I don’t win them, I’m buying the book on ebay. No question.

  5. Thanks for the priorities reminder. Chicago has the fire department show up as greeters at the schools on the first day of school, and every time I hear about something like this, I sort of wish they were there every day!
    (P.S. If goat roving is anything like yak yarn I think you can count on several baths for it. First, I went all gentle with Eucalan. Then I hit it with Febreeze, twice, and left it out to “air” for weeks. Finally, I threw it in the washing machine with Tide. I’m not sure it’s lost all of its yakkiness but at least I am no longer being mocked by my family because of “mommy’s stinky yarn”!)

  6. I encourage monthly donations to MSF. That’s what I do and, while the amount I donate isn’t huge, it’s consistent and that really helps.
    That wool market looks amazing. The colors are gorgeous. Have fun with the goat roving, dude.

  7. WOW, nice stuff he brings home for you and those photos suggest much more could have been had. Amazingly good way to remind folks of the ongoing Checnya thing, too.

  8. Wow. What a cool brother in law. I love mine, but, well, they would never think that goat roving would be such a great gift. Mind you, I can’t smell it from here…
    I swooned when I saw his pics of the marketplace. I hope all are safe there. What a horrible way to live – thank god for MSF.

  9. Wow…what great pictures! It’s so neat (and sadly thought provoking) to see and hear about what’s going on in other parts of the world.

  10. You will get it done Stephanie, you always do.
    Ben, thanks for letting us take a peak at your adventure.
    Happy Halloween!

  11. The wool market in Nalchik looks amazing. I work with many people from this part of the world, they have certainly been in my thoughts lately.

  12. You’ve been through this before…You KNOW that blocking will make that shawl gorgeous. Ben, thanks for the update and the information on a terrible situation that doesn’t receive much/any media coverage in the U.S.

  13. I loved the guest blog! If it weren’t for the machine guns, those pictures would be almost enough to make me take a trip! Mittens for less than a dollar!? That’s almost just sad!
    P.S. Your shawl is looking nice, and even if blocking doesn’t change it, you can just think of it not as “ratty” but as “trendy vintage style!”

  14. Thanks for the great guest post, Ben! I’d love to see more of these from time to time. Good way to remind us why we chose to become members of TSF in the first place, and that the need for our continued efforts is still very much there, whether we see it on the news or not.

  15. I’m so jealous of the beautiful goat’s wool you got and that market looked amazing!
    I just wanted you to know that I was in Rome, Italy, last week and in honor of you, Miz Harlot, my sad little sock made an appearance with the Vatican Guard! I don’t know if you’d like to see it, but I can be found at:
    Happy Halloweenie!
    Jen in Chicago

  16. Yoohooooo — THAT Laurie! Isn’t she going to have to de-hair that yak? Isn’t this a good time for her to ask for woolcombs for Christmas?

  17. Shucks, Steph. Thanks.
    And what a coincidence: The Boy has adopted cousins from Khazakstan; they live with their parents in Round Lake Illinois now. They smell fine.
    Happy Hallowe’en!

  18. Yikes, Evelyn, please let me know you eventually got it unstunk! I’m knitting up some gorgeous, fine stuff the weight of quilting thread (well, darned near it) that’s a blend of silk and yak. Lovely looking, but with a delicate wiff of barnyard. Subtle yet everpresent…
    Hazel Carter’s Sampler Stole was NOT meant to include a fecal sample! Snigger (OK, back to respectable mode.)
    Steph that is gorgeous stuff with a wonderful provenance. Thank Ben for us all.
    Those snowflakes WILL block out beautifully.

  19. Hi Stephanie: I love the hat pattern from Oct. 28/04. Do you remember what pattern you used? If you could point me in the direction of the pattern I’d appreciate it.
    Love your Blog!
    Kathy Elsie
    PS: thoroughly enjoying your second book. I’ve promised to lend it to the lady who runs the gift shop at work and then she will read it and order copies to sell at the gift shop. She is already selling Book #1!!

  20. Harlot, that shawl is gorgeous, and if you can’t see it yet, well, your Knitting Superpowers are blinding you to the beauty of it. It will block out so pretty the snowdrop will almost wish she had been born in the fall. (Almost)
    And tell your BIL the following:
    a) cool goat roving,
    b) awesome pictures of the market, and
    c) “Cheers” is an odd way to end a letter about machine gun fire in the street, cities in rubble, and “Beslan every day”. Yikes.

  21. I just got drool on my keyboard looking at that wool stall. (I typed “wook stall”, that’s how bliggety I got over it). I see three colours I must have. I am going to go sit in the storage room and weep now.

  22. Wow. Ben could have bought out the whole market and had us bidding for the items. He just needs a bigger suitcase next time. Who here *wouldn’t* buy a pair of those socks to support those women.
    I bought some ebay yarn that, when I rinsed it to block the lace, reeked to high heaven of dead mouse. EWWW. I got suggestions from vodka to coffee grounds to submerge it in to take out the smell. Only problem? I’m a Mormon. Can you just see me walking into the corner market and buying… Uh, how about that kitty litter suggestion… But if the others really might work on your goat hair, I’m dying to know!

  23. Shouldn’t that be “roving correspondent”? Maybe not, since I can hear the groans from here.
    Great post, great pictures. Never fear, blocking will work its magic and the shawl will be gobsmacking.

  24. I’m already in trouble. Does this happen to you? I spent all weekend finishing socks for my best friend and sending out loving wishes to her. Another Christmas gift ready, what a good girl am I! But she’s feeling slighted. I can’t tell her why I was hidy-holing -ruin the surprise. Non-knitters just don’t understand the relationship between a knitter and her knitted gift being almost as important as the relationship with the giftee.

  25. Oh, look at the beautiful snowflakes on that shawl! You’re almost there….(hold on, baby, wait just a *little* bit longer til auntie Stephanie finishes making a shawl for you, OK?)

  26. *swoons at the sight of the wool market*
    About the stinky goat roving… I tried to google a solution, and it mostly seems of the baking-soda, vinegar variety. Eucalan, woolite, and b.o. kleen come up a lot too. I expect you’re going to have to spin it before you clean it, too. (Heh.)
    Still, the following links might be entertaining…
    http://www.av-at.com/carpet.html (Deals with wool carpets from Turkey that smell of goats!)
    http://www.tis-gdv.de/tis_e/ware/fasern/kammzug/kammzug.htm (details on the care and shipping of wool, with a warning that angora wool “often releases an unpleasant odor, so should not be stowed together with fine products.” Did you know that there’s a risk of spontaneous combustion when shipping wool???)
    Yeah, I _am_ a google geek.

  27. For serious destinking (“dead mouse,” ick!) I’m told the used-car dealers have some amazing chemicals. Just don’t let them cover it up with “new car smell”! Or try a pet store for carpet cleaning destinker (for some reason I’m remembering “Pet Smart(R)” but I’ve never used it myself so I can’t swear to it).
    Oh, those colors. Maybe the roving will wash lighter and be dyable.
    Isn’t goat roving what turns into cashmere (from Kashmir)? Or is that a different kind of goat?
    The shawl is lovely and will block just fine.

  28. The shawl is looking great; I hope it isn’t a forecast of things to come! Just to try something easy on the goat roving…I would try washing a bit in Surf laundry detergent. I’ve had pretty good luck with that on other stinky projects/problems!

  29. Yippee yippee yippee! And thank you so much for organizing TSF!
    That Kazakh goat fur-ball is such a thoughtful gift!
    Ben, thanks, too, for sharing your experiences and photos with us!

  30. Now, that is a wonderful photo and a wonderful brother in law…”I come bearing roving…”
    The shawl will block. You know it. If my little tiny beginning efforts can block out nicely, your latest example of gorgeousness will be just fine.

  31. Wow. Cool, cool yarn photos! The Travel Channel definitely needs the Yarn Harlot to travel to find the best yarns around the world! Wouldn’t that be a cool show? 🙂

  32. Thank you, Ben, for taking the time to do the guest blog. You made it real for me. The contrast between wool (comfort and security) to violence and death. How can I contribute to the fund? I would like to do a monthly charge on my credit card.

  33. First of all, NONE of my brothers-in-law are as cool as Ben. They don’t have exciting jobs, and they certainly are nowhere near as thoughtful.
    But what I want to know is when is our yarn crawl to Kazakstan??
    The San Francisco yarn crawl was fun, I found ArtFibers and bought some cool silk and wool yarn for socks for hubby and some silk and wool laceweight for me. I found Imagiknit and bought LOTS of sock yarn (some for me, some for oldest son and some for hubby). Oldest son will be leaving for college in January and Pullman, Washington is a cold place. So socks and fingerless gloves are on the adgenda for the next couple months.

  34. Happy Hallowe’en! We didn’t even carve pumpkins this year with all the hubbub about. Sacre bleu!
    Try Nature’s Miracle to destinkify the goat roving. Any big pet store should have it.

  35. an excellent book on the state of modern russia – the caucasus & beyond – is called “black earth” by andrew meier. it gives a stunning and very complete picture of the state of things and the lives of the people.
    i highly recommend it.

  36. Thanks for the great report from Kazakhstan! Fantastic! Good luck on your pin planning, I’d definitely buy one for more than two dollars.

  37. Regarding your shawl – severe blocking will certainly fix it. My shawls look like rags before blocking. There’s a scary moment when you thnk all your work is not going to be worthwhile, but it will come right.
    By the way, I love knitted on edgings!

  38. While in Russia, at a similar market that had everything, I bought 3 kilos of wool, handspun and dyed, for five dollars. The woman was surprised that anyone would want it and didn’t understand why I was so excited when there was all sorts of pretty acrylic.
    The prices are really very different, but that money goes further for them than it does for us.
    Also, don’t let the problems in parts of the Caucuses scare you away – Sochi and the Black Sea area of the Caucuses are beautiful. There is lots of beautiful knitting – lace shawls, intricate mittens, amazing hand spun mohair and wool. While it is important to understand the tension and problems there, it is not dangerous everywhere. House of Fools is a great movie that gives a good idea of the situation in that region. For me, it was more dangerous everyday in Moscow than when I went south. I would love to lead a knitter’s trip through Russia and the Caucuses!

  39. Lovely guest blog and pictures. I was surprised at the cost for hand-knit socks! Yikes…I just paid $20 a pair in Newfoundland a few weeks ago and I felt like I got a bargin. I took my (sock) knitting with me on holidays to Newfoundland and came home with 5 pairs of wool hand-knit socks…that I didn’t knit!

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