Monday, August 20, 2007

Back to the Salt Mines

Sadly, summer has come to an end. Officially, summer doesn't end until the Autumnal Equinox, on September 23rd this year, but summer ends for teachers when they go back to work after a too-short summer break. This year's break was impossibly short: the last day of school was June 16th, and we were required to be back at work this morning, only nine weeks after leaving books, grades, and students behind. The students have only a slightly longer break; they'll be in class tomorrow morning at 7:50 a.m., and the treadmill of the school year begins once again.

Summer has wrapped up in a rush, with moving to a different classroom across the campus from where I've been for the past 10 years, getting used to working with a new group of teachers, and getting ready for the new challenges that come with teaching a new grade and subject (9th grade Geography) with brand-new books and materials. No matter what, everything that needed to be done by this afternoon was finished--the kids arrive tomorrow morning, whether I'm ready for them or not. Fortunately, school starts slowly, and the first week is spent on "resocializing" the students after two months of them running wild. During that time, I can make decisions on how to start tackling the material, getting books passed out and assigned, and training my "little puppies" to start acting like the adults they so desperately want to be treated as.

Meanwhile, I wrapped up the fiber tasks that had to be completed before work again moves to the center stage. The black Romney is washed! I followed Paula Schull's instructions for washing fleece, and the entire fleece came out incredibly clean and soft, with 97% of the lock structure intact. I spent part of yesterday combing about a pound of clean fleece, and there's very little waste; I'm going to end up with about 80% of the fleece turned into buttery-soft sliver, perfect for spinning. The question now: do I comb it all before starting to spin, or do I spin as I comb? Time and inclination will tell.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to work on the pinwheel sweater. It is growing, slowly. I'm now past the point where the sleeves go, and am now working to make it large enough to close in the front. It's incredibly boring knitting (good for meetings), so I keep telling myself "Done is beautiful," so I'll finish it before I start on another project.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Done Is Beautiful

How many projects do you have partially finished? How many sweaters are knitted, but not assembled? How many socks are awaiting heels? How many knitting needles, crochet hooks, or bobbins have you bought because the others are currently "dedicated" to another project? These things, usually known as UnFinished Objects (or UFOs) seem to be the bane of every fiber artist, needleworker, or reenactor. My own list is frighteningly long, and covers a multitude of different crafts: spinning, weaving, dyeing, knitting, crocheting, sewing. This tendency to create UFOs slops over into other areas: the house, the gardens.

In some cases, there's a good reason for a project stalling. For example, we can't do any more work on the house until the attic renovation is finished, and we're currently waiting on the "stair guys" to call us with a start date on the new attic stairs installation. We need to finish landscaping the last part of the backyard, but I need 3 Cecile Brunner climbers and the nursery has to special-order them.

In other cases, however, it's simply my own broad interests, and boredom with doing just one thing at a time, that causes a closet full of UFOs. Sometimes, I just don't feel like sewing, or crocheting, or knitting. Sometimes, I need something for a specific reenacting event, so I have to drop everything to work on that project. Sometimes, what I thought was just going to take a day or two takes a week or two...or month or two...or a year or two. So I end up with yet another UFO.

Fortunately, I'm not alone in this affliction--it seems to affect all of us at one time or another, and among my group of friends, it's considered nearly normal. However, we're all trying to change our ways, and we've adopted a new mantra: Done Is Beautiful. Get one project finished before you start the next project. Revel in the sense of accomplishment when you can finally look at something, and realize that the rest of the yarn can be thrown into the scrap wool bin, or the tools can finally be cleared off the front porch.

Obviously, it's impossible to have just one knitting project going on at a time, especially if knitting is something that gets dragged to meetings. Lace knitting just doesn't work when you have to keep track of what some moron is proposing during a meeting, so "brainless" knitting projects are essential for taking to meetings, watching movies, and hanging out. As a break from brainless knitting, I need one regular knitting project. As a break from knitting, I need one crochet project. As a break from yarn, I need a costuming project. As a break from costuming...wait a minute...I'm back to the stack of UFOs. Done is beautiful. Done is beautiful. Done is beautiful. Let's try this again.

  • 1 pair of socks from handspun (regular knitting project)
  • 1 pinwheel sweater (brainless knitting project)
  • 1 afghan (crochet project)
  • 1 late 15th/early 16th century Flemish dress (costuming project)
  • 1 lb. of Falklands combed top (spinning project)
  • Install drip system to plants in containers (gardening project)
This is what I'll admit to right now. The true list is much, much longer, but this is enough to keep me busy, especially as my wonderful, blissful, child-free summer has come to an abrupt end with the news that I need to move, lock, stock, and cases of paper, to a new classroom across the campus from my old classroom. I hate moving, as it generates its own list of things that have to be done, all with a deadline of August 21st. Most of the big things (packing, moving, and unpacking all my books, papers, supplies, and files; setting up the room) are finished, but there are the details:
  • Organizing my desk
  • Hanging my historical posters, credentials, and awards
  • Hanging the screen for the overhead projector
  • Changing the door knobs on the closet so I can chain and lock them
  • Pulling hundreds of staples out of the wooden walls--did I mention this room has no bulletin boards?

I will get all this done: the classroom stuff in time for the start of school, and the rest eventually. I will get this done because...

Done is Beautiful.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hot Fun in the Summertime: Lambtown U.S.A.

The 21st annual Dixon Lambtown U.S.A. festival came around again this weekend. Lambtown originally started in the mid-1980s as a way for the small Central Valley town of Dixon to celebrate their their links to lamb and sheep production, and to draw people to the town best known for a 5-day country fair in early May (the Dixon May Fair). Dixon was one of the centers of California lamb (as in "leg of") production during most of the 20th century, with two large meat-packing plants providing most of the town's non-farming employment. Dixon needs all the help it can get in the summer: the town is located in the "agriculturally-oriented" eastern part of Solano County, and July there is both incredibly hot (around 100 degrees) and humid. The festival, famous for its lamb cook-off, mutton-busting, and sheep shearing competition, began to change about seven years ago with the addition of a wool show and fiber festival, and is now Northern California's mid-summer fiber festival.

This year's festival came about in spite of the trials and tribulations that only small town politics can cause. The festival, depending on who you talk to, has been the victim of poor attendance, poor publicity, high prices for renting the festival site, lack of volunteers, lack of corporate sponsors, or a combination of issues and problems. The festival was moved from the Dixon May Fair Grounds, up the street to the smaller, but much nicer, Hall Park between the Dixon City Hall and the Senior Center. The festival was cut from two days to one, with the resulting logistical headaches caused by cramming two days worth of fiber classes and competitions into one. The livestock-related events (which are the big draw, according to some of the local papers) such as mutton-busting, competitive sheep shearing, and sheep dog trials, had to be cancelled.

Note to the powers-that-be at the Dixon May Fair Grounds: I heard how much you wanted ($,$$$/day) to rent your facilities. You can rent the entire Solano County Fairgrounds--including the horseracing track--for less.

We (I "dragged" my friend Betsy along with me) got down there early on Saturday morning, and started off the day by checking out the forty or so fiber vendors. Alpacas seem to be the current favorite livestock "pet," and most of the vendors had alpaca fleece, alpaca roving, alpaca yarn, and items made from alpaca for sale; one vendor even had a very cute Suri alpaca (but I don't think he was for sale). Instead, his owner had taught him a few very cute "stupid alpaca tricks," and had him performing for treats (alpaca pellets). This fair, I was smart: I came armed with a list, and pretty much stuck to it. I found a grist control card to help me continue to work on consistency, got a new multi-hole diz for pulling sliver off the combs, and a Weavette for doing up samples, as they seem to be required more and more for skein competitions. I admired all the alpaca, but didn't buy any; I already have a pile of millspun alpaca to knit/crochet, some alpaca to spin, and too much fiber already. Anyway, I was waiting to pick up my fleeces from Black Sheep, and find another fleece.

Eventually, we found our way over to the Senior Center, where the Skeins & Textiles competition was on display. Much to my delight, there was a blue, first-place ribbon on the Monmouth Cap, and a red, second-place ribbon on the skein of SoySilk I swore and sweated over. The 3-ply Gotland I rushed to finish for this fair didn't place, but I'm not surprised--it's my first attempt at 3-plying off 3 bobbins, and it's difficult to control the tension properly.

After a leisurely survey of the entire fair, we went back to the car, retrieved our wheels, and set up camp under a shady tree for an afternoon of spinning. So many people came by to watch and ask questions I felt like I was doing an impromptu demo of spinning techniques, but it was fun. Eventually, we moved closer to see the sheep shearing demonstration, and ended up with perfect seats for the National Spinning Competition. This competition is enough to test the mettle of the best spinner, as it requires the winning spinner to be good at lots of different things: spinning consistently, plying, designing novelty yarns on the fly, spinning blindfolded, and spinning in rubber dish gloves. The prize for the winner was a nice reward for all this work: a Kromski Sonata spinning wheel.

There was a wool show and sale that, after Black Sheep, seemed small (about 60 fleeces, including mohair and alpaca), but most of the local woolgrowers were well represented. The Grand Champion fleece was a luscious white Merino, while the other top fleeces were a yummy dark charcoal Halfblood and a lustrous Romney x Coopworth. The logistics of the move and shortening the fair may have intruded on the wool show and sale, as the tent where the wool show was going on was used for the National Spinning Competition, people couldn't easily get to the fleeces to examine and purchase them. Also, for some reason, most of the fleeces didn't have prices on them, and it was difficult to transact a sale, as the fleeces didn't have the growers' names on them. Fortunately, I "lucked out" in several ways: I found a beautiful black Romney that had a reasonable price on it, and was able to find the grower--Ace Vandenack--and give him the cash I had for buying fleece. Mr. Vandenack joked that he didn't really want to sell the fleece and was considering showing it again, then let me keep the first-place ribbon the fleece had won in its class (Natural Colored Wool, 50-54s).

We missed the Spinners Lead, as we weren't sure where it was happening, and both of us had promised to help one of the vendors pack up her booth, so we spent the rest of the fair relaxing, packing, and moving boxes, baskets, bins, bags, and spinning wheels into various cars and trucks. We came home with a back seat full of wool, sunburns, and a renewed appreciation for our craft. Below are a couple of photos of the black Romney fleece, but they don't do it justice: the fleece is really black, and the few brown tips are dark brown, rather than the orange in the photograph. But you can see the wonderful crimp and lock structure.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Spin Journal #7: Cooking Up Something Wild

After stewing, simmering, and baking the "found" Romney to get some truly wild yarn, I've knitted a silly hat based on a pattern for a South American chullo hat. For some reason, this hat has earned the nickname of a "Jayne Hat," after appearing on a character in the TV show Firefly (which I've never seen). The hat itself is a simple stockinet cap with ear flaps, but trimmed out with all manner of yarn braids. Since starting the hat, I've noticed it appearing in all sorts of unusual places, including on the head of Ron Weasley in the 3rd Harry Potter movie.

The Cherry/Blue Berry Kool-Aid Colortwist ended up with the colortwist spaced far enough apart that the yarn self-striped. To make it a truly "unique" (is that code for "ugly"?), I put several yarn braids sprouting out of the crown. More yarn braids on the ends of the ear flaps keep them from curling up like overcook calamari (a problem with stockinet knitting); the individual braids looked a little skimpy, so I combined them into 4-braid plaits.

I'm now the proud owner of a completely silly, one-of-a-kind, warm hat to wear at cold fiber-related events. One thing about this hat: everybody will know it's mine. Who else would make or wear such a hat? Who else would wear such a hat? The darling, long-suffering, and ever-patient husband consented to serve as my model for these photos of my latest creation.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

White, Red, and Blue, Blue, Blue!

Once again, the Solano County Fair has come and gone. It's rather like a rite of mid-summer: the Fair opens, almost nobody shows up except those loonies (like me) that love county fairs, the Fair closes, and I go pick up my entries and a sheaf of ribbons.

This year, I didn't enter any jams, jellies, or pickles in the Preserved Foods competition. Preserved Foods is a bit tricky to do in the Bay Area: most of the county fairs happen just as the major canning season starts, and things have to be put up within 1 year of the opening day of the fair. This means you either spend most of the summer putting up things that won't be judged for nearly a year, or you scramble at the last minute to come up with award-winning entries. I've done both, and won both Best of Show and Reserve Best of Show in both 2004 and 2006. However, I didn't do any canning last summer because it was much too hot, and then we went on vacation for 3 weeks. I tried to do a little canning right before the deadline, but my heart really in it this year, and I wasn't satisfied with the results, so I just passed on entering anything.
I made up for the lack of Preserved Foods by entering a bunch of different things in different Textile and Baked Goods classes. Even though I was hampered by a bad can of baking powder--Clabber Girl, the baking powder I've used for the past 40 years seems to have been reformulated to remove any trans-fats (in baking powder?!?) and doesn't act the same as the old baking powder--I still had 9 of 10 entries finish "in the money," and 5 of the 9 had blue ribbons tacked up next to them. I did nearly as well in the fiber arts: 6 of 7 entries finished in the money, and 3 won blue ribbons.

But wait! There's more!

I came home Friday evening, and there was a telephone message from someone at the Solano County Fair, telling me I had won a "special award," and that I and two guests were being "comped" admission to the Fair on Saturday, so I could be present at the awards ceremony at 6:00 p.m. As we were already going to the Fair with a bunch of friends, and had a fistful of comped admission tickets already, I didn't worry about retrieving the comp tickets. We went off to the Fair, spent an hour buying different snack-like foods (corn dogs; garlic fries) that went well with beer, and made our way over to the MacCormack Building for the big awards ceremony. We got there early, snagged perches on a couple benches, and waited. And waited. AND WAITED. Nearly an hour after the ceremony was supposed to start, it finally did...with the announcements of the winners of the different 4H awards. Now, I don't have a problem with 4H, and it was sort of cute (for the first 10 minutes) to see these little kids go up to receive little trophies and cash prizes for growing 28-lb. cabbages, making the best jam, or stuffing and mounting a buffalo head. However, it was hot (the MacCormack Building doesn't have air conditioning), everybody was tired, and we missed several hours of the fair.

However, the Fair officials finally got the end of all the kids' awards, and announced that Meyer Cookware Co. had donated two of their 5-piece bakeware sets for a Cookie Bake-Off, so all the cookie entries had been entered. A little girl who won for her baking won the Junior Division Cookie Bake-Off, then the official doing the emceeing said, "During the entry check-in, a woman came in with all these entries, and when I said she must be hoping to win at least one blue ribbon, she said, 'I don't do this for the blue ribbons...I'm going for the Best of Show, Reserve Best of Show, and the Sweepstakes.' Well, she didn't win those, but her cookie entry was loved by every one of the judges. The winner of the Senior Division Meyer Cookie Bake-Off is Dawn Jacobson!" The Lizzies, made from a recipe from my grandmother's cousin Mary, had won what turned out to be this year's top prize. I was both very pleased (it's a great recipe) and very embarrassed (Did I really sound that arrogant?) as I went up, posed for a "grab it and grin" photo, and got my set of bakeware, to the cheers and applause of my friends and the rest of the crowd.

So, the results:

Blue (1st Place) Ribbons:
--Banana Bread (my grandmother's recipe wins for the second year in a row)
--Streusel Coffee Cake
--Carrot-Pineapple Muffins
--Lemon-Poppyseed Bread
--Handspun Yarn, 2-ply, Other Than Wool (SoySilk)
--Handspun, Handknitted Item (Monmouth Cap)
--Handknitted Item, Other (Child's Vest)

Red (2nd Place) Ribbons:
--Currant Scones
--Handspun Yarn, 2-ply, Wool (Corriedale)
--Handknitted Item, Socks

White (3rd Place) Ribbons:
--Hot Milk Cake
--Chile-Cheese Cornbread
--Nut Brown Bread
--Handspun Yarn, Singles, Wool (Suffolk)
Landscaping, or "You couldn't pay me to do this!"

I've been remiss in writing my blog, spinning, or weaving the bookmarks due October 1st because we (me and the long-suffering, ever-patient husband) have been relandscaping the front yard. Landscaping is one of the items on that short list of things that I will do for myself (because I'm a cheapskate), but that I would never willingly do for any amount of money, because it's far too much like work.

"Gardening" is not "landscaping." Gardening is fun. I love to putter in the garden, snipping dead flowers off the roses, pulling a few weeds, especially with a lovely cold beverage at hand, and the promise of grilled food and dinner on the patio that evening. Landscaping, on the other hand, involves moving large quantities of very heavy topsoil, fertilizer, soil amendments, and mulch. Landscaping requires the use of tools like rakes, shovels, and in our area, a mattock (which most non-gardeners refer to as a "pick-axe"). Landscaping is hot, dirty work that includes multiple trips to the Yard Waste Center (for clean topsoil), the local building materials yard (for mulch), several nurseries, and Home Depot, sometimes all in the same day.

We have slowly (OK, very slowly) been relandscaping nearly the entire property since purchasing the house in 1994. Part of the delay has been money--landscaping can be very costly, especially when you have to put in "infrastructure" (retaining walls, patios, a garage, etc.). Part of the delay has been time--it's hard to tackle a big landscaping job over a weekend, and many of our weekends are taken up with other things. Part of the delay has also been trying to decide what will grow best in each area, as we have a property that can best be described as "problematic."

The big problem is the soil: there isn't any. Our property is on the northeastern slope of a large sandstone hill, with 4 to 12 inches of clay. Dig through the clay and you hit the sandstone. Dig down through the sandstone enough (about 7 feet), and you hit water, because we have a very high water table. When we first bought the house, I managed to dig up one bed on the east side, and improve the soil to the point I can grow roses and irises in it. Otherwise, plants are limited to what can be grown in containers and raised beds. We "hardscaped" (a fancy term for "paved over") the backyard--not difficult to do once most of the backyard was taken up with a garage--and built large raised beds around the patio for a nice collection of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Doing all this work takes time, so the front yard was left until we had the time, energy, money, and desire to relandscape the entire front, an area about 15x75 feet on the north side and east sides of the property dominated by a huge Monterey pine. The entire yard sloped down toward the streets (it's on a corner).

This is the third time we're landscaping the front yard. The first time, we ripped out the junipers, repaired the board-and-gravel stairs, and planted arctotis stoechadifolia (African Daisy) across the slopes. The goal was to create a simple, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant front yard. The result was a bunch of dead plants that either didn't get enough sun (thanks to the slope), were poisoned by the acid soil (thanks to the pine), or were run over (thanks to the stolen motorcycle that crashed into the front yard).

The second landscaping adventure included putting in retaining walls (goodbye slopes!), trying (and failing) to get rid of the oxalis that blooms every spring, and seeding (and reseeding) a lawn. I actually managed to get a nice lawn growing on the 100 square feet that got enough sun and weren't under the pine tree. The lawn died last summer when we had two weeks of 90+ temperatures, and I couldn't put enough water on the lawn to keep it alive. The only things to survive were the hydrangeas and Sprenger asparagus ferns planted in wine barrels along the foundation of the house--they were in the perpetual shade.

This time, I'm giving in to the demands of the pine, the terrain, and exposure (garden-speak for how much sun the area gets). It's quite a mix, from complete shade to lots of sun, from hard-packed clay to very acidic loam (years of pine needle mulch creates that). I sat down with my trusty Sunset Western Garden Book, looked at lists of plants that like permanent shade, partial shade, bright sun, filtered sun, acidic soil, and are easy to grow, and came up with a nice plan and plant list. The list is heavy on azaleas, ferns, and a rhododendron in the shady, acidic areas under the pine, the hydrangeas and ferns in the complete shade in front of the house, and more sun-loving plants (including a gardenia, several dietes, and lots of bulbs) in the sunny spots. We've "sculpted" small hills to create enough topsoil for the plants to thrive, in spite of being planted on a bed of clay and sandstone, with paths in between the hills for access through different parts of the garden. The entire yard is now bordered by a boxwood hedge and soon have that finished "professional" look by judicious mulching with ground redwood bark (aka "gorilla hair"), both to hide the drip watering system and to protect the plants while they're getting established. The azalea in the photograph above, which was "borrowed" from the Azalea Society of America's Website, is "Redbird," one of the 4 varieties of red and pink azaleas in the yard.

So I'm spending a little money (less than $2,000), some time (about 150 man hours), and a great deal of energy, to save a great deal of money (about $20,000). An equitable trade-off for my own yard, but you couldn't pay me enough to do this in your yard!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Answering the Call and Getting a Hang-up

After a marathon baking session and dropping off all my baked goods at the Solano County Fairgrounds, I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening parked on the divan, spinning and flipping channels to watch the LiveEarth concerts. Mindless, if relatively preachy, entertainment, and just what I was in the mood for, after all the baking.

For those who were in the mountains and completely cut off from civilization for the past week or two, LiveEarth was a series of 9 concerts on 7 different continents, featuring 150 artists, most of whom you've never heard of. I must admit, I was surprised by a few absences--most notably, U2--but I guess their Big Issues (Africa and baby seals) take priority over the planet. Or perhaps they felt, as Roger Daltry commented, "No concert is going to save the Earth." Perhaps not, but it was nice to see a benefit concert series that didn't hit you up for money every 2 seconds; instead, the organizers and their sponsors (most notably, Philips--the lightbulb company) just reminded people to recycle, drive less, and replace their incandescent lightbulbs with Compact Fluorescents (CFs), in the hope that you would run down to your local home improvement store and buy CFs--preferably Philips--to replace your wasteful incandescent bulbs.

The continuing refrain through all this was "Answer the Call," but the exact details were a little fuzzy. At one point yestday, Al Gore ("the former 'next president of the United States'") exhorted the crowd at the "New York" (actually, the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ) to take a pledge to do all this stuff (get the United States to sign the Kyoto Accords, cut personal CO2 pollution, not support construction of any more coal-fired power plants, etc.), but most of it is pretty vague. I've noticed over the years that, while people like grand statements ("Cut CO2 emissions"), they need specific tasks to get anything done ("Turn the thermostat down and put on a sweater.").

The downside of events such as LiveEarth is that they really are "one-day wonders." Everybody comes together for a great day of great music (personally, I would have paid for a ticket to the concert in London's New Wembley Stadium), but once the music is over, everybody goes home and goes right back to what they were doing on Friday, albeit with a sunburn and a hangover. It doesn't address the issue (the environment), perhaps because the real work for environmental change is just that: work. It's sitting in meetings, talking to people, reading research, writing letters, articles (and these days, blogs), sitting in more meetings, talking to more people, helping draft legislation, and so on. People remember the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970), but most people don't remember what led up to it: a horrendous oil spill off the beautiful coasts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in California that was the largest oil spill until the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. Most people also don't remember what came after: lots of work, lawsuits, politicking, and finally legislation to give California some of the toughest environmental laws in the U.S., including banning oil-drilling off the California coast. The laws have been effective--California is a pretty darned nice place to live--but they took a lot of work, and continue to take a lot of work to keep everybody following them. All that work never was mentioned yesterday as people enjoyed listening to the Beastie Boys, Alicia Keys, and the Police.

The other problem with issue-generated concerts such as LiveEarth're preaching to the choir here in the Jacobson household. I switched most of the lightbulbs to CFs years ago; in some cases, I'm on my second CF (the porch light). I didn't do it because I'm a "granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing, blissninny" (although I do like granola and Birkenstocks), but because they save money and I'm cheap. Same for the water-saving showerhead, and the hot water heater set at 135 degrees, and the thermostat set at 65 during the winter ("You're cold? Put a sweater on!"), and recycling all the pop cans, and separating the garbage, and, and, and... You get the picture. I grew up in a household where saving money was essential, and the less money that went for the utility bills, the better, so I learned to take really quick showers, save water, turn off lights, and wear sweaters. I still follow that same philosophy today; if it helps the environment, so much the better.

So, in the dual interests of saving money and helping the environment, here's how to make your very own "GottLite" for less than $10 (a knock-off of a very expensive brand of craft light):


Equipment needed:
1 lamp that uses a standard incandescent bulb
1 5000K (aka "daylight") CF for an incandescent bulb socket

Unplug the lamp. Remove the incandescent bulb. Screw in the CF. Plug the lamp in. Turn the lamp on and use.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Black Sheep or Bust, Part III--Shopping!

The highlight of the Black Sheep Gathering is, of course, the incomparable shopping! Nearly 100 vendors from all over the West Coast gather in three of the barns at the fairgrounds to set up one of the best fiber marketplaces around. Add to this Oregon's lack of sales tax (the price you see is what you pay), and nearly every Californian at BSG went a little crazy, buying nearly everything in sight.

After all, how can you resist sights like entire display walls filled with nothing but hanks of Chasing Rainbows silk roving? I didn't even try. While I didn't take home everything on the wall, I did manage one skein dyed beautiful shades of purple (the colorway is named "Purple Haze"). Classes are conveniently scheduled with 2-hour lunch breaks and wrap up before the "Trade Show" closes, so a lot of shopping can be accomplished, if one is determined and can manage not to suffer from fiber overload. It's possible, but it's tough. After all, you walk in with a shopping list, and find all that other stuff that isn't on the list, but is stuff you really need (a convenient euphemism for "want"). And how are you supposed to pick just one drop spindle (it was on the list, I swear), when you can choose from Jonathon Bosworth's lovely spindles, or Steve Paulson's beautiful and unusual Spindlewood square drop spindles? In the end, I didn't even try. I "settled" for a birch and purpleheart Bosworth, and a cocobolo and ebony Spindlewood.

In the midst of all this shopping, the Wool Show and Sale is going on. The judging takes place all day on Friday and in the morning on Saturday, and is well worth attending. The judge(s) wear microphones, and the good judges explain what they're looking for, and the good points and bad points of each fleece, so it's a great free lesson on selecting good fleece. Once all the judging is finished, all the fleeces to be sold are set out on tables and everybody has about an hour to closely examine them and decide which fleeces they're going to try to purchase. Then the doors close, everybody lines up, and makes a mad dash for the fleece(s) they want to buy. This year's fleeces were beautiful, and as BSG is the colored sheep show and sale, this is where one buys colored fleeces. I ran through the sale room during my lunch break on Saturday, found a magnificent black Corriedale, and made arrangements with the daughter of one of my guild members to stand in line and grab the fleece for me when the sale began, as I would be back in class. I wasn't sure I was going to get it, so I cruised through the "non-show" fleeces, just to see if there might be something nice. I stumbled across a big (7 pounds), gorgeous, silver variegated Border Leicester that just cried out to be combed and spun, so I bought it as a "consolation" fleece in case I didn't get the Corriedale. Much to my delight, I did get the Corriedale, so I sent both fleeces directly to the wool mill to be scoured.

Since I didn't have classes on Sunday, I was able to finish looking at everything in the Trade Show, and finish my shopping. Rule #5 (right after "always bring a list," and "leave the credit cards at home"): Don't send purchases back to the tent so you don't have to carry them around. Having to lug around purchases slows down how much you spend, because you're conscious of how much you've already spent. Having an obliging husband carry bundles back to the tent for you frees up your hands to touch, consider, and buy, including helping a friend pick out dyes for her next project, a large silk flag (we're looking for Scarlet Red among all the boxes of Cushing's Perfection Dyes).
So, all in all, it was a great show. After BSG closed at 4:00 p.m., we helped people get their stuff packed up, and then hit the road ourselves, pointing out and chuckling over the cars heading down the road toward California, bags of fleece strapped to the top or filling up the back. We traveled as far as Grant's Pass, then finished the drive back to the Bay Area the following day. Next year's trip is already in the planning stages, and I'm frantically combing, carding, spinning, and weaving to clear out space for all my new tools and fibers.
Black Sheep or Bust, Part II--The Classes

One of the features of the Black Sheep Gathering are the teachers pulled together for several tracks of really great classes. There are two types of classes--1/2-day, lasting 3 hours, and full-day, lasting 8 hours with a 2-hour lunch in the middle--and tracks include fiber processing, spinning techniques, needlework techniques, and animal husbandry. You can mix and match the tracks to take the classes you want, but you have to sign up early--I barely got into the Woolcombing Basics class, and the silk spinning class filled up before I could get in. In place of that I took Blending for Effect, which turned out to be just the class I needed. This year, classes ran from $40 (half-day) to $75 (full-day), plus nominal fees for materials. I was delighted when I found out that Paula Shull, the Woolcombing Basics teacher, "bent" the rules a little bit and allowed me in her class. I saw her give a demo of woolcombing about 10 years ago, and on the basis of that demo, bought a pair of Indigo Hound 5-pitch English wool combs. I tried over the years to use them properly, but couldn't seem to get the hang of it; now I had a chance to learn from the person who got me started!

Friday morning saw me hoisting my Wendy wheel on my back, packing up my wool combs, and trekking over to the Catholic school BSG uses for the classes each year. When I got there, I found a large room with a multitude of different types of combs, all being clamped securely to tables, and big bags of freshly washed fleece, waiting to be combed. Promptly at 8:30, Paula began the class, and we dove into the incatricies of woolcombing. Paula is a great teacher: she's very down-to-earth and practical, and has a way about her that gives you the feeling that she won't coddle you, but she also will give you a hand if you're making a complete hash of something. Paula originally learned woolcombing from Peter Teal, and was careful to explain the differences between Peter's technique (in which you add olive oil and water back to the fleece and comb with warm combs) and her technique (in which you start with clean fleece and cold combs, and just add a little water to control the static electricity). I liked her technique (the finished yarns don't become rancid from the olive oil), and found that there are some combs I don't like (such as the Majacraft mini-combs), and some combs I absolutely love (like my 5-pitch English combs). We combed lots of fleece, found that combing can get rid of scurf, learned a cool trick for separating down from hair in double-coated fleeces with a set of Viking combs, and saw a quick demonstration of how to spin worsted to take advantage of the combed wool. I've gone from being a little frightened of my combs to loving them, and even bought a set of Indigo Hound Viking combs and a Forsythe blending hackle to do some other things with wool to be combed.

After Friday's woolcombing breakthrough, Saturday's Blending for Effect class was a nice counterbalance. Taught by Jill Laski of Ashland Bay Trading, the class was a "back to the basics" of color blending using about 40 different colors of Merino top and a drum carder. I haven't worked so hard in a class since my days in college. After a short lecture on the care and maintenance of drum carders in general (for example, you should always take the poly belts off belt-drive drum carders, or the belts wear out faster from being under tension all the time, and they're a pain to replace), she launched into a discussion of color that took me back to my days in Basic 2D Design. Then we had to card batts of Merino top to meet certain color requirements, and manipulate some of of the batts to make lighter, darker, cooler, and warmer yarns. I ended up with about 14 batts, enough to make 28 large sample skeins that illustrate each effect. And that was just in the morning! After lunch, we got to play with texture, when Jill pulled out the exotics and different fibers, and let us play with blending them to make new and interesting yarns. I created some truly bizarre combinations (such as black alpaca with shocking pink silk), but also some really nifty stuff (red/brown shades of Merino, sky blue silk, black mohair). Needless to say, there was no way I could spin up everything as I was making it, even though Jill recommended that we spin a sample before carding large batts to make sure the yarn was what we wanted. Again, another terrific class, with lots of great information and the confidence to create my own yarns. Never again will I have to spend a bunch of money for mill-spun yarn--I can make it all myself!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Black Sheep or Bust, Part I--Traveling and Camping

I spent the last weekend in Eugene, OR, at the Black Sheep Gathering, one of the larger wool and fiber shows and sales on the West Coast. I spent way more money than was probably good for me, but everything I came away with I either needed or wanted, so it was a greally great show.

This year, I took Amtrak from Martinez to Eugene. The Wednesday night Coast Starlight is sort of the "Fiber Express," as it's the one most of the West Coast fiber people take, if they are going to take the train. I've traveled by train before, but never this long in coach (normally Stephen and I get a sleeper and travel 1st class for long trips). However, at less than $50 for a ticket, it seemed like a cheap way to get where I wanted to go. I wasn't truly travelling alone--several other members of my guild also went by train.

As usual, Amtrak was late getting into Martinez. We were supposed to leave at 10:54 p.m. on Wednesday night, but it was 12:11 when we finally pulled out of Martinez on our way north. One of the guildmembers had alerted the conductor that I was getting on in Martinez, so I had a seat near them. I had just started to doze off when we pulled into Sacramento, and my seatmate got on: a coach traveler's worst nightmare. I spent the rest of the night trying to sleep, defending my seat (Why are there no armrests to separate the seats?), and blocking out the overhead lights and the snores and coughs of my seatmate. As soon as it was light enough to quit pretending to sleep, I bolted for the Lounge Car, knitting bag in hand, and spent the rest of the trip in the Lounge Car.

The scenery on the trip north is spectacularly beautiful, especially this time of year. The route winds around Mount Shasta, along several rivers, and through lots of forest. It was the way I like to travel--pretty scenery passing by the window, while I work on a piece of needlework. Several other guildmembers did the same. We finally managed to get seats all together, and didn't give them up until lunch, afterwhich it was almost time to get off the train in Eugene.

This year, I decided to camp out with other members of the guild. Camping at the Lane County Fairgrounds is really pretty nice. The fairgrounds has a big, grassy field behind the buildings, right next to a creek, and the field is exactly between the show and sale, and the classes. There's no running water in the camping area, but there is a Porto-San in case of emergencies, and the fairgrounds' nice bathrooms (complete with showers) is only a few minutes walk away. Camping is also nice, because you have a place to hang out if you don't feel like going to a class, looking at sheep, or shopping, you can have an ice chest full of goodies to eat and drink, and (best of all) you save lots of money that can be spent on fiber! Our little encampment had about 6 tents surrounding a couple awnings, and the awnings became our "Spinning Central," where we could gather to chat, spin, and relax. We "potlucked" our meals, and each afternoon, somebody with a car made a trip to a grocery store to stock up for dinner that night and breakfast the following morning. Having at least 1 car accessible is a big help, as the fairgrounds are in what is now primarily residential, and the nearest grocery store is nearly a mile away. The weather was nearly perfect (we got a few sprinkles on Sunday morning), but the nights were cold. The photo was taken near sunset on Friday, and it had ready dropped into the upper 50s before the sun set. A good sleeping bag and a wool blanket made for perfect cover to sleep in my tent.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Spin Journal #6: Cooking Up Something Wild

Tried the Ice Blue Lemonade Kool-Aid, and discovered that you get a nice light blue, but it still wasn't as dark as I wanted. Sigh. OK, back to the drawing board, or dye pot. While I was waiting for the first skein of Romney to dry so I could check the color, I finished spinning and plying the rest of the Romney, so I have about 6 ounces (approximately 255 yards) of finished yarn.

The second try was with Blue Berry Kool-Aid: 6 packets of Blue Berry and 2 packets of Ice Blue Lemonade, along with 1 1/2 cups of vinegar and enough water to cover the balls of yarn. This time I gave the dye pots (my stainless steel saucepans) 90 minutes in the oven at 210 degrees and then let them cool in the liquor overnight before rinsing. This time, I got a much "bluer" blue, and the red from the Cherry Kool-Aid is more subdued than in the yarn dyed with the Ice Blue Lemonade Kool-Aid. The yarn is a variegated blue through a process known as "cloud dyeing": you roll the undyed yarn into a ball (I use a ball winder), then dye it rolled up. The dye doesn't penetrate completely, and you get these lovely clouded patterns in the finished yarn.
The other skeins are some other yarns dyed with Orange and Grape Kool-Aid. I have all this yarn I've spun, but never done anything with, so I'm trying to get rid of some of it by dyeing it up bright colors. Perhaps the fact that it's dyed will motivate me to do something with it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

...And They're Off!

Summer vacation is finally, finally, FINALLY here! Far too short for my taste, but at least I have 9 beautiful, blessed weeks of doing n-o-t-h-i-n-g connected with school or education. Time to do all those things I normally like to do in my full and busy life: spin, weave, do needlework, read, sleeping in, and staying up late.

I'm celebrating the first day of summer vacation by finishing up some spinning, and leisurely cleaning up the house. I'm trying to get more focused about cleaning, as I would love to have the house really clean (housekeeping is a "hit or miss" situation during the school year), but I'm too lazy to day to really worry about it.

I did manage to get quite a bit of spinning done. I finished dyeing the batts and got them spun, and started spinning the rest of the Merino on my Wendy wheel, Emily. I wanted to get used to using it, as I'm taking it with me to Black Sheep, and I haven't spun on it for about 10 years. I took the Wendy to the guild meeting yesterday, and several people commented on how cute it was (it really is pretty cute). A lot of people confuse a Wendy with John Rappard's wheels, the Little Peggy and the Wee Peggy, but they're completely different wheels from different wheelmakers.

Emily seems to have lived a charmed life. Stephen found her in an antiques shop in Coloma (California) in late 1994, while we were there doing an historical reenactment. He bought her for me, lock, stock, and 3 bobbins, for the whopping price of $65, including tax. I'm sure she probably sold for more than that brand new. Shortly after purchasing her, I "sort of" learned to spin and had loads of fun spinning really bad yarn until I finally settled down and started taking classes and spinning on a regular basis. I ordered a bunch of extra bobbins for Emily from Philip Poore, the New Zealand wheelmaker who made her, and have a couple charming letters detailing the history of the wheel, how to build and install a Scotch tensioner on the wheel, and why it wasn't in production any longer. Nobody is really sure how she ended up here in the US, but I'm not complaining--she's still the wheel I take to workshops because she spins silently and is tremendously light and sturdy. For her trip to Black Sheep, I got a new, blue carrying case for her that arrived today. If inanimate objects can look happy and excited, this wheel is doing just that: she's currently standing in her new carrying case in the front hall, saying, "Can we go yet? Can we go yet?" Soon.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Spin Journal #5: Cooking Up Something Wild

This experiment is entirely due to an off-hand comment by Randall Hayden of Hayden Looms. He compared types of wool processing before spinning to cake baking: if purchased roving is your basic cake mix, while hand-processing is baking from scratch.

"Cake" got me thinking about food, and dyes, and what can I do that's fun with fiber I'm not overly concerned about. Idea! Dye parts of the remaining batt of Romney with Kool-Aid, spin and ply them with a bobbin of white Romney already spun, then overdye the entire mess with yet another color.

The white Romney (approximately 2 ounces) was spun this afternoon. The other batt, which weighed just over 2 ounces, was split in half lengthwise. I decided to go with Cherry (red) and Lemonade (yellow) Kool-Aid for the first dyes--when overdyed with Ice Blue Lemonade (blue) Kool-Aid, I should end up with a finished yarn that is 50% blue, 25% purple, and 25% green, with a color twist.

To make the dyebath for each of the batts, I dissolved 2 packets of the appropriate flavor/color Kool-Aid with hot water in a stainless steel pot with a tight-fitting lid, then added 1/3 cup white vinegar to make the dyebath acidic. Then I submerged the batt in the dyebath, gently pushing it down under the water, but not agitating it any more than necessary. I lidded the pot and put it in a 210-degree oven for 1 hour (and found out the "Cooking Time" feature on my oven works), then left the pots in the oven overnight to slowly cool.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

What? Fair Time Already?!?

It's June, and the panic has set in--what am I entering in the county fair? This happens every year. I get busy with my life in general, June 1st arrives, and I suddenly realize two very important things:

1) I missed the deadline (for the umpteenth year in a row) for most of the "big" county fairs in my area; and

2) The deadline for our county fair is next week.

This year is no different than the past five. Once again, I missed the deadline for most of the big fairs in the Bay Area (Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin county fairs); the deadline for the Solano County Fair is Monday at 4:00 p.m.

Fortunately for me, this is just the entry deadline. If it was the actual deadline (June 16th for everything except baked goods), I'd be in real trouble. As it is, I just have to fill out the entry forms, and calculate what I can get finished before the actual deadline.

I'm the first to admit it: I like county fairs. Maybe it's because I'm not that far removed from the farm myself (only 2 generations), or that it's the one place where what you do is judged strictly on it's merits. Or maybe it's because it's the only time I allow myself to indulge in that gustatory disaster/delight known as a "corn dog" (preferably with lots of yellow mustard). I like to wander around, looking at all the jars of tomatoes, pickles, jams and jellies, watching the Ginzu knife guy saw through an aluminum can and then slice up a tomato, marvelling at the crocheted afghans, knitted sweaters, and embroidered quilts, and laughing at the antics of the kids and their prized sheep, goats, rabbits, and pigs. It's a pleasant rite of summer.

I got started competing in county fairs about 20 years ago when I entered and won my first blue ribbon for a jar of wine jelly. I was hooked! Since then, I've kept competing when I've had the time, and can now boast of a sizeable collection of ribbons, mostly blue, plus a bunch of rosettes for Best of Show, Reserve Best of Show, and Sweepstakes (given to the person with the most blue ribbons that year). I even won "Best of Class" a couple times at the California State Fair.

Last year, I started to branch out, in part because I do much more than make fabulous jams and jellies. I like to bake, so last year I entered some of my baked goods: just a couple breads and three kinds of cookies, just for fun. "Fun" turned out to be four blue ribbons. Last year I also entered a couple crocheted afghans as my first foray into the Needlework competitions and they both won blue ribbons. The final "take" after last year's fair was the Best of Show rosette for my Tecate & Lime Beer Jelly, the Reserve Best of Show rosette for my Cherry-Amaretto Jam, and out of 20 entries, 17 took ribbons (11 blue ribbons).

So, what should I enter this year? How many jams and jellies can I get made before June 16th? Do I have examples of my knitting, weaving, and spinning that can be entered? Will it be unbearably hot the days I have set aside for baking the baked goods entries? You'll just have to stay tuned to find out!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Spin Journal #4 The Gray Monmouth Cap

Success! After two trips through a hot washer and a hot dryer, the Monmouth cap shrank to a fraction of its former size, became very thick, and the Cotswold bloomed beautifully, as I had hoped. It took two trips because after the first "felting cycle," Stephen pronounced it to be still a bit too large (it came down over his ears too much). As you can see in the photographs, there's still some indication that the cap was knitted, but it's beginning to get very fuzzy.

One problem I discovered during the first felting cycle: do not felt fuzzy knits with terrycloth towels. I spent about 15 minutes carefully picking little black lint balls off the hat. As they were a different color black than the black in the hat, I knew they must have come from the black terrycloth towel I threw in the washer with the cap to help with the felting. For the second felting cycle, the cap went into the washer alone, and there were no more cotton lint balls.

After the second felting cycle, the hat was smaller, thicker, and the individual stitches in the knitting obscured by the fuzziness of the Cotswold bloom. Stephen tried it on and it gave him slightly goofy, just-fell-off-the-haywagon look that I suspect all these knitted and felted caps gave their wearers. I'm planning on teaseling (gently brushing the surface to bring up the nap) and then shearing the nap to improve the water-shedding ability these caps supposedly had. I would love to use actual teasels--they grow in vacant lots in the Bay Area--but this is the wrong season for them, so the dog brush I use for flicking open locks for spinning will have to suffice.
This has been a good experiment in reproducing 16th century knitting. I designed a yarn with characteristics to achieve a specific finished product, knitted something out of my handspun, achieved the level of felting I desired, and made Stephen something extremely cool that can't be purchased from a sutler or off the Internet.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Spin Journal #3: The Gray Monmouth Cap

As noted in a previous post, I decided to knit the gray Monmouth cap with 3 strands of single handspun "Corrie-Cot" (a Corriedale and Cotswold blend), as my singles still seemed a little skimpy for the task at hand. No matter how much I try, I simply can't spin fat singles. I don't have wheels for spinning fat singles--double-drive wheels are traditionally for fine spinning--and it really is difficult for a spinner to go back to fat after learning to spin thin. A great deal of it has to do with concentration: you have to constantly pay attention to how you're spinning, and if your attention strays, you go back to spinning your regular "default" yarn.

I finished the knitting on the Monmouth cap, and took a few liberties with Rutt's original description to get a cap more to Stephen's taste. He thought the first cap was "OK, but..." and then had a list of changes he wanted made. Make the crown shallower, make it more semi-spherical, etc. One thing he wanted that I simply can't comply with is making it a thinner cap. The original cap I made him was out of a 2-ply Merino I spun and hand-dyed with madder, and I used overly large needles to create a cap that was lighter and lacier than a normal Monmouth. But back to the changes. I've listed my pattern notes below.

1) Cast on 60. Join to make round. Mark the join.
2) Knit 3 rounds. Inc 3 stitches spread evenly throughout round. Mark where the stitches are.
3) Knit 1 round, then purl 1 round (this will create the edge of the hem), then knit another round.
4) Dec 3 stitches above the increases while knitting this round. Mark these decreases.
5) Knit next 8 rounds.
6) Dec 3 stitches above the previous decs while knitting this round. Mark the decreases.
7) Knit next 6 rounds.
8) Dec 3 stitches spaced evenly between the previous decs while knitting this round. Mark the decreases.
9) Knit the next 4 rounds.
10) Dec 3 stitches above the first 2 sets of decreases while knitting this round. Mark the decreases.
11) Knit the next 2 rounds.
12) Knit 2, k2tog all the way around.
13) Knit next round.
14) K 2, k2tog all the way around.
15) Knit next round.
16) K 1, k2tog all the way around.
17) K1, k2tog all the way around. You should now be down to 8 stitches.
18) Thread a tapestry needle, cut the yarn leaving a tail of about 6 inches, and thread it through the remaining 8 stitches, then pull tight to close the top of the hat. With another piece of yarn and the tapestry needle, turn the brim and whip it down.
19) Felt the living daylights out of the cap (I throw it in the washer on hot with a couple of towels, then dry it in a hot dryer), and shape it over a head form to get the shape you want.

I'm not putting a button or a loop on this one, as Stephen normally wears these caps under his helm as padding, and the extra stuff can be annoying. The finished cap is quite large; the photos of it are on a styrofoam head, but it's huge on my own head. Next step: felting/fulling the cap.

Felled By The Back...Again!

I can't believe this--just as I'm planning a weekend full of busy tasks, my back goes out once again! So I'm now "back" on muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, and (when necessary) painkillers, trying to keep still once again, and wondering if I'm ever going to get anything accomplished. A bad back is such a trial!

I did manage to finish the layette for a friend's BBQ/Baby Shower, and it came out quite cute, I think. The sweater is from the "Happy Baby" pattern from Red Heart yarns, the booties are from another layette pattern, and the hat is the "Stupid Baby Bonnet" pattern from Maggie Righetti's Knitting in Plain English. I took a few liberties with the pattern (working it up on #6 needles rather than #8s, changing colors, etc.), but it still came out pretty well, and the mom-to-be to appreciate a handknitted layette. She also got a gorgeous handknitted baby afghan from another friend, and lots of the usual "baby" stuff: sleepers, T-shirts, baby toys, a "gift basket" of all the weird things you need to take care of a baby (whoever heard of "Dr. Boudreaux's Butt Paste"?). There were, of course, stupid baby shower games, but the hostess added a twist: instead of all the women being subjected to these indignities, the guys (it was a co-ed BBQ) had to compete. It was a hoot seeing all these big guys trying to drink beer out of baby bottles and guess the contents of different baby food jars. In the end, everybody had a good time, and the mom-(and dad-) to-be got a lot of needed stuff for Junior's arrival in a few weeks.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Odds, Ends, and Another Skein of Yarn

Four weeks and counting until I'm paroled for the summer! Then I'll have vast quantities of time to spend messing about with fiber, and all the other things I normally do when I'm not torturing children (according to them) or grading papers.

I decided that 2 strands of the single "Corrie-Cot" blend might not be enough for the Monmouth cap, so I finished spinning another bobbin of Corrie-Cot, washed it, and got it dry. Before that, however, I spent nearly 2 hours trying to fine-tune my Reeves. Oil, new drive band, more oil, different drive band, a bit more oil (it was really thirsty), and finally, a change to a different whorl. Success! I think the issue was the small differential between the smallest whorl and the bobbin. They were nearly the same size (the whorl is only slightly larger), and I was having to treadle like made and ended up with horribly overtwisted yarn. I switched to a larger whorl, and things smoothed right out. It's still a bit difficult to switch back and forth between the two wheels (the Reeves and the Schacht-Reeves), but I have to keep my skills up on both, as I normally take the Reeves to workshops and demonstrations, while I just love spinning at home on the Schacht-Reeves.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Character"-building Yarns

I can honestly say I've now seen it all. Well...OK, I haven't seen Jesus riding down Market Street on a bicycle as part of Critical Mass, but that event can't be far off.

Last weekend, I trekked into one of the local LYS (Local Yarn Shop for the non-knitters). Normally, I seldom set foot inside one of these rarefied establishments--the yarns are costly, there is nearly always a group of expensively "casually" dressed women all gathered around a table knitting and gossiping, and, quite frankly, the atmosphere gives me the heebie-jeebies. I keep wondering if they're going to require a credit check before I buy the set of 000 Addi Turbos I need to knit the latest odd thing I'm creating. The yarns in my not inconsiderable stash have come from Michael's and Jo-Ann's (aka "the lands of cheap yarns"), the Internet, fiber shows, and what I can produce myself. Visits to LYSs usually involve buying equipment, books, and patterns for the latest thing that has captured my fancy.

Last weekend we finally had a blue moon, and this particular LYS had a sale: 25% off everything in the store. 25% off will get me into nearly any store dealing with fiber, so I dashed down after work, ignored the women sitting around the table gossiping about their latest vacations in the Caribbean and Hawaii, and proceeded to comb the store for the Addis and books I wanted. I also went through the yarns, looking for future projects waiting to happen. That's when I stumbled across it: the "character" yarn. I'm pretty tough, but I was frightened by this yarn. It was a blobby mess made by a beginning spinner, full of snarls of mohair and lumps of wool, with bits dyed different colors that appeared all randomly mixed together. It looked uncomfortably like a few skeins I spun years ago when I was a brand-new spinner, and hadn't yet mastered the intricacies of the spinning wheel. I've kept these skeins, marked with the type of wool and the date they were spun, both as a reminder of how my spinning was when I started in 1994, and to show me how far I've come. The photograph shows my improvement over the years. The bottom skein is some Suffolk singles I spun in late 1994 on my little Pipy Wendy wheel; the upper skein is some 2-ply merino I spun and plied on my beloved Schacht-Reeves last month.

I was frightened a second time when I saw the price: more than $25 for a tiny 50g (35 yards)hank of this yarn that looked so much like intestines, and labeled as "chunky" yarn. OK, that's just crazy. I've worked for years to produce to fine, consistent single that can be plied into a nice-looking handspun suitable for knitting or weaving, and some guy is making money off what I would throw in the trash as a disaster? Impossible. Surely the LYS owner made a mistake in ordering this year, as nobody would spend their hard-earned money and precious time making something out of this stuff. One would have to spend more than $150 just to make a small garment.

Just as these thoughts were drifting through my fevered brain, still reeling over the price, a well-dressed woman walked in, lugging her latest project. She had suffered that bane of a knitter's life, running short, and needed match the yarn used for her project (a small cardigan-type sweater). The yarn? That same horrendous handspun that had shocked me to my toes. I couldn't resist the temptation--I asked to look at her project more closely. I have to admit, I was not impressed by what I saw. The yarn worked up in a nasty, blobby fashion, with uneven stitches and bits of mohair sticking out at all angles. The color range--and remember, I am the queen of loud variegated--looked like random bits of colored wool all tossed together without regard for tone or color compatibility. In other words, the colors clashed violently. I mumbled a polite, "Oh, how every interesting!" and "Thank you," to the poor woman, obviously proud of her project, and beat a hasty retreat to the bins of Koigu until I could recover enough to pay for my items (5 sets of Addis and a stack of books and magazines) and escape to the relative safety of a nearby pub and a pint of cider. I can only hope that her little project is destined for fulling/felting, which might hide some of the "features" of the yarn, or this project, too, is one destined for the bottom of a drawer or the back of a closet.

I recognize that handspun yarns have character, and that the unevenness of handspun can be a desirable trait. However, there is such a thing as too much character. In my book, blobby messes marketed as "handspun" are both a rip-off and an insult to the rest of us who work so hard to produce beautiful handspun yarns. My plea to handspinners is this: Please, please, honor the rest of us that spin, and the good taste of needleworkers, and don't sell blobby messes as "handspun with character." You're giving me a headache, and the rest of the spinsters of the world a bad name. Produce great yarns--they have all your great character already built in.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Spin Journal #2: The Gray Monmouth Cap

I finally succumbed to the temptation of using the new drum carder, and recarded the rolags and some additional picked wool both to try out the carder, and to continue spinning up the Corri-Cot into yarn. I ended up with about 6 ounced of beautiful batts (still full of noils, thanks to the second-cuts), but this time spun what I had on the Schacht-Reeves. Talk about quick! I had nearly everything spun in an evening (thank heavens I can still treadle, even with a bad back).

After spinning, Stephen said, "Can you really felt my hat a lot?" Well, I can do nearly anything (at least where fiber is concerned), so I reeled off all my singles and tied the hanks to set twist. Normally, I don't set the twist until after plying, but this time I'm using singles. Also, I sort of wish I had known before I started spinning. Normally I ply my yarns, so I overtwist the single slightly to accommodate the slight "untwisting" that happens during plying. Since these yarns weren't plied, they're overtwisted a bit.

Using the singles will also answer a couple questions that have come up recently on the Historic Knitting list about knitting, yarns, twist, bias. I want to see if the following happens:

1) Does the single attempt to untwist as I knit because I knit "US/English" style (I throw the yarn)?
2) Does the twist cause knitting to bias or skew to one direction or another?
3) Does the finished knitting felt tighter (more like felt) because the yarns aren't plied?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spin Journal #1: The Gray Monmouth Cap

In a valiant attempt to document the construction of a Monmouth cap from sheep to wearing, I'm starting a "Spin Journal."

Years ago (we won't say how long, as it's embarrassing), I got a Cotwold hogget from (IIRC) Teresa Simons of Mountain Shadow Ranch. She brought a darling little Cotswold down to an historical reenactment at Coloma (my first wheel came from that same reenactment), and she did a sheep-shearing demonstration using a set of 19th century hand shears. Unfortunately, the little beast was squirmy, and it takes a lot of skill to shear using those old hand shears, so there were a lot of second cuts, but the fleece is so pretty--a mix of white, black, and silver gray--and the wool is so soft and lustrous that I didn't want to just use it for felting. It ended up in the back of the stash closet until I could find time to do something with it.

A few years (and a few fleeces) later, I got a gorgeous silver-gray Corridale fleece from Sherilee Farms. That fleece came off Christopher, their big, award-winning Corridale ram, and I got the entire fleece (I even skirted it myself). It was a huge fleece--14 pounds after skirting--so I graded it, and wondered what to do with all the leg and belly wool. It was too nice to just dump (Sheryl and Lee kept the sheep coated, so even the "trash" was first-rate), but too short for combing and spinning worsted yarn. Again, more fleece was consigned to the back of the stash closet until inspiration struck.

This spring, as I was cleaning the studio, I came across all this fleece that had been stored for years. The bugs hadn't gotten to it, so I sent it off to Yolo Wool Works for scouring. There wasn't enough of the Cotswold nor of the Corridale leg and belly to send as separate lots, so I thought, why not have them scoured together (and save $30), blend them, and see what I get? Both staples are about the same length, both are soft, and and the different colors (from black, through silver gray, to white) should make a nice gray wool. So all that wool went as one lot to the processor.

I got back about 8 pounds of scoured wool, all of which needs picked. While I will spend lots of money on my fiber addiction, I balked at buying a picker. It's not the cost; I simply can't justify the space a nice Patrick Green triple-picker will take up. Also, I'm just a little afraid of something with that many sharp points. I'm by nature a klutz, and I'm afraid I would not concentrate on what I'm doing for just a second and shred my arm from wrist to elbow. So the wool has to be picked by hand--a horrible, boring, tedious job, but it has to be done. I just put on a "Book on Tape," and let someone read to me while I sit in the studio, pulling locks apart and picking out noils and bits of vegetative matter. I got about half a pound picked before my hands finally rebelled and I couldn't pick any more.

After picking comes carding. I bought a new set of handcards in February, and all this gave me a chance to give them a serious workout. I did give them a workout, as I handcarded this entire half-pound of picked wool, rolled it into neat rolags, and stacked them in a basket for spinning. I also realized that there is no way that I can humanly pick and handcard all this wool--it's too hard on my fingers and hands, and I need them for other things, like spinning. Time to break down and order the drum carder. I was nearly ready to give up, so I tried spinning up a few of the rolags to see what kind of yarn I would get. Hooray! The yarn, a glorious tweedy gray, was just what I was looking for, so my enthusiasm for this project was renewed, and I slogged on, carding and rolling all this gray fuzz.

I took the basket of rolags and my little Reeves castle wheel to School of the Renaissance Soldier and began spinning up the rolags. I'm trying to spin a fat, woolen yarn and it's proving quite a trick. I normally spin either worsted or semi-worsted and very fine (think sock-weight), so I have to spin slowly and keep saying "Fat. Soft. Fat. Soft."

Friday, May 04, 2007

Enforced Idleness

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a complete slug, except when you're ordered to do so. Then it becomes a form of torture.

I pulled a muscle in my back in late January. Pulling a muscle in your back is nothing like pulling a muscle in another part of your body--it takes forever to heal, and just when you think everything is OK, your back betrays you. My back seemed to be fine until Tuesday, and then agony! By Wednesday morning, I could barely move. The diagnosis: a pulled muscle (the same one pulled in January). The verdict: absolutely NOTHING until Monday. No work, no driving, no shopping, no housework, nothing. I was sent home with two prescriptions for painkillers and muscle relaxants (oooh, happy drugs!), a referral for physical therapy in four weeks, and a warning that if I tried to do anything, my back wouldn't get better. As I'm planning to camp at Black Sheep next month, my back had better be in good shape, so I'm trying my best to behave myself.

By Thursday afternoon, I was B.O.R.E.D. There is nothing so boring as enforced idleness, especially when there are so many things that need to be done, but can't because you're not allowed to do any of them. The studio needs to be straightened up, there are skeins of yarn to roll into balls, and since the carder is now here, a ton of fleece to be carded and spun. There's also all that "other" stuff that should be done: laundry, ironing, vacuuming, and dusting. Since I can't do any of those, I did things I could safely accomplish: grading papers (my students will be so pleased), and knitting a sheep.

When I went to Stitches in February, I was told "don't bring home any sheep," so as a joke I bought a kit to knit and felt a toy sheep from Yarn Barn. The sheep is from FiberTrend's pattern (#206X), and the kit had 3 skeins of Reynold's Lopi: 2 light gray and 1 dark brown. The sheep is knit on US#11 needles and, since I can't do anything except sit on the divan and knit, works up pretty quickly. I finished the body on Thursday, and probably will have the sheep finished by the end of the weekend. FiberTrends also has a pattern for little llamas and alpacas (#207X), so a trip to the LYS to order the pattern may be in my future.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bits and Pieces

I'm spending far too much time with knitting needles in my hand, and far too little time doing all the other things I should be doing: grading papers, working in the garden, painting the studio. I'm even foregoing posting to this journal, as I want to get things done.

Speaking of "done," the parcel for afghans for Afghans is ready to go. I finished the vest (sewing on the buttons took nearly as long as knitting the vest), and after I finished it, got a "wild hair" about sending just one thing. I sat down with a a pattern for a little knitted cap, a skein of green wool, and my trusty US#10s, and four hours later, I had a little cap. Next: to adapt the Monmouth cap pattern I knitted Stephen's cap from to crank out little Monmouth caps for Afghani children to wear this winter. I like knitting caps--they're quick, don't take too much yarn, and once I get a pattern worked out, relatively mindless knitting (great for meetings).
School of the Renaissance Soldier was well-attended, and generally fun, except for the torrential downpour on Saturday afternoon and evening. I discovered something important about camping in the rain: I don't like it. Once upon a time (about 25 years ago), I didn't mind it so much, but now I generally hate it. Fortunately, it wasn't too cold, but still, very wet, and I really wished hard for a pair of wool socks to keep my poor toes warm (wish not granted). I took my little Reeves castle wheel with me and spent part of Saturday spinning some "grade 3" (neck and belly) corridale with some Cotswold I had gotten years ago. I'm trying to spin it as a woolen (tough for a longtime worsted spinner like me), and I'm getting pretty decent results. The yarn is a nice medium gray. Heaven only knows what I'll do with it when I'm finished: I've got about 6 pounds of the stuff, so everybody may end up with gray wool Monmouth caps, all knitted from yarn I've spun myself. In this picture, I'm knitting the top of one of a pair of wool socks for myself, so I will be warm at the next cold, rainy event. The white cloth is actually a small linen bag (think "little pillowcase") that I just pulled through my belt, leaving enough to allow the yarn to travel from the ball to my knitting. And yes, that dress really is made out of wool that heavy. I wear a linen gown underneath it and a linen shift, so the wool is essential to keeping moderately warm when the weather is chilly (it was in the low '50s).
On Sunday, the ground was damp, and I wanted to walk around, so I carried my knitting with me, and made a fascinating discovery: I can knit and walk at the same time. True, I'm not "power walking," and I have to be somewhat careful to keep an eye on where I'm going, but I can do it. As I can barely chew gum and walk at the same time, I'm rather pleased with my attempts at being coordinated.
One of the things I managed to do at SRS was to sell one of the spinning wheels. No, not my Reeves, not my Pipy, and certainly not my new Schacht-Reeves. I sold the Country Craftsman Saxony I had purchased about 5 years ago for reenactments, and then discovered that I didn't like how it spun. It's a perfectly fine wheel, I just don't like it. It was purchased by the daughter of a friend, so it is, in effect, staying in the family.

Having gotten rid of the wheel, I ordered my drum carder. After months of agonizing, I finally settled on Strauch as the manufactuer, and I was all set to buy the 205, when I found that for just a little bit more, I could buy the top-of-the-line Strauch 405. It actually ended up being nearly "a wash," as the 205 didn't come with the accessories (like clamps), while the 405 is a "turnkey" package: carder, brush, tools, clamps, and Strauch's new teasing tool (a piece of carding cloth attached to a board). So the 405 is on its way from The Woolery to me, along with a Leclerc floor inkle loom. I've been looking for one, off and on, for about 5 years, and after seeing one at Southern in early April, checked the various vendors and found the Leclerc. It doubles as a 10-yard warping board, so I can get rid of the gigantic warping board I've used for years and have this much smaller "multi-tasker" in its place. I want to experiment with weaving "narrow wares" (tapes) on it, and as a lot of people are beginning to bring spinning wheels to events, I want to stay one hop ahead of them and do some actual weaving at events. Other people have done it, usually dragging one of the little lap inkle looms with them, but I've always been bothered by the fact that the laptop inkle loom dates back to the 1930s, rather than the 15th century.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

April Is A Very Busy Month

I just love April--there always seems to be so much, I have enough on my plate to fill three months, and it all needs to be wrapped up before May 1st. This year is no different from other years: every weekend has had something scheduled for at least 3 months, and I spend all my spare time recovering from one thing, and getting ready for the next event, workshop, or meeting.

One thing I am not doing this year is going to the Conference of Northern California Handweavers big meeting, scheduled for next weekend. This year's meeting is being called a "retreat" and is being held at Asilomar, the famous conference center near Monterey. The conferences are a chance to take spinning, weaving, dyeing, and felting workshops with regionally and nationally known experts, and (usually) there are incredible opportunities to shop, as most of the fiber and equipment vendors make the trip to Northern California for the conference.

However, this year is different. There are only 14 workshops (none of which I'm interested in), the conference is expensive (over $500 if staying at Asilomar), and Asilomar does not allow vendors, so there's no shopping. I decided months ago to save my money and go to next year's conference, to be held in Sacramento.

While I'm not going to CNCH, I won't be sitting at home. The School of the Renaissance Soldier is the same weekend (See my post a couple weeks ago, further down; there are pictures of me in costume), so I'm off to spend the weekend doing what reenactors like to do best--getting sunburned and dirty while having fun. This year's weather forecast is for warm, sunny weather, so the "Action in the Low Countries" should be fun.

Speaking of a lot of fun, we managed to squeeze in a visit on the opening day of Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Los Angeles last Saturday. The Faire has found a new home in the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale, and last Saturday was (for us Northern Californians) nearly perfect weather: cool, cloudy, and even a little drizzle. I wore my Flemish dress, Stephen wore his new socks (which needed to be fulled even more, as they were much too large), and we both had a marvelous time. While we were there, I did a lot of knitting on a new Monmouth cap for Stephen, and a number of people stopped and took pictures as I sat, either in "Nobles" or in "German Camp," knitted, and (in the best tradition of Faire), gossiped with friends. While there wasn't too much to buy, I did manage to find a lovely new pair of German shoes, so now I need to build new Germans to go with the shoes.

I knitted a Monmouth cap for Stephen based on talking with a friend about the caps she had knitted. She started with the description in Richard Rutt's History of Hand Knitting of a cap found in 1969 in Monmouth, and worked out the right size needles (US#11) and the right yarn (1 skein of Cascade 128). I ran by a LYS while we were in Southern California (Happy Hookers in Chatsworth--cute, cluttered shop with a nice owner), found the yarn, and splurged on a set of rosewood #11s. The cap worked up quickly, fulled into a thick, warm cap for Stephen's bald pate, and was a nice little project to work on at Faire. On this cap (nicknamed "Monmouth 1.0"), I turned the brim after fulling. On the next version, I'm going to try picking up the cast-on edge as I'm knitting the cap, so that the brim is already turned when I get ready to full it.

That done, I tried another experiment: knitting a pouch. I need a small black belt pouch, and couldn't find anything that was remotely what I wanted. After fulling the Monmouth cap, I thought, "This might work for a pouch," so I started with a skein of Paton's black merino and my trusty #11s, and knitted a pouch. I doubled the strand (one from the center, one from the outside), and made the pouch as large as I could and still keep it to 1 skein. I fulled it this afternoon, and ended up with a nice little belt pouch that is approximately the size I wanted to hang off my belt. It's also thick enough that I can carry small things and they won't fall through (a common problem with unfulled knitted pouches). So this experiment was a success. I've included approximate instructions:

Belt Pouch 1.0

Materials: 1 skein Paton's Classic Merino Wool (225 yds/skein)
1 set #11 dpns

Cast on 48, and join. Put a ring stitch marker at the join.
Knit 3 rows.
Knit 3, *bind off 4, knit 4,* repeat from * around. You should have 8 bound-off areas.
Knit each stitch, and when you get to bound off stitches, cast on 4 stitches using "backwards loop" cast-on. You should be back to 48 stitches and have 8 openings.
Knit about 30 more rounds.
*Knit 2, knit 2 together,* repeat from * around.
*Knit 1, knit 2 together,* repeat from * until about 8 stitches are left.
Draw end of yarn through the eight loops and pull tight. Tie off.
To full, wash in hot water in the washer, then dry in a hot dryer. Cut a thin leather thong to thread through the slits at the top of the pouch.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I'm not "goofing off," I'm...

Why is it that when you do a lot of handwork (and I do), people invariably think you're sitting in front of the TV doing nothing? I realize I'm not outside pulling weeds out of the flower beds (which I probably should be doing on this glorious spring day), or yet again cleaning up the living and dining rooms, but I'm actually doing something when I'm sitting on the divan in the living room. The divan is a good place for doing handwork because it's in the corner next to the fireplace, and my Ott light is tall enough to reach over the back and cast a good light on my work. I can also see the TV, on the rare occasions that I'm both working and watching TV (usually I have music on). I have done a lot of work in that corner--knitting, crocheting, a mountain of handsewing, baskets of spinning, and it is a comfy place to work.

The last two weeks have been nothing short of "panic mode": getting ready for WASC reaccreditation at the school (the Western Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges approves schools and their operations; without accreditation, our high school diplomas would be worthless), going through the three-day reaccreditation visit, trying to keep 1,500+ teenagers under control and learning while the reaccreditation visit is going on, and traipsing off to celebrate my oldest nephew's wedding right in the midst of all this. Fortunately, the reaccreditation is now behind me (they loved us!), my new niece is a sweet, darling girl, and Spring Break means two glorious uninterrupted weeks of time to myself to get caught up and life back under control.

In spite of this insanity, the handwork continues to get done. The olive merino Renaissance stockings are finally finished! They took what seems like forever, but was actually only four months. I couldn't take them to meetings because I had things like decreases to keep track of. I knit them out of Paton's merino wool, on #3 dpns, and they're so long (thigh high) it took a very long time to knit each leg. However, I kept persevering. I also tried as much as possible to knit both at the same time: one leg, then the other, one heel, then the other, one foot, then the other, one toe, then the other. It seems to have made a real difference, especially when I finished the toe on one sock, and then sat down and an hour later had the other sock finished too. I blocked them yesterday, and they're ready for Stephen to wear at Faire next weekend.

In the meantime, I've started another "charity" scarf for my Meeting Work. This one is out of gray merino I found while cleaning and organizing the stash, so it's serving three purposes: keeping me occupied during meetings, reducing the stash, and making something for somebody else. The scarf is a simple one, plain stockinette with a border of seed stitch, done on #6 needles, so it's going pretty quickly.

I also have another pair of "civilian wear" (as opposed to "costume") socks underway. Months ago, I saw the owner of our LYS knitting 2 socks at once on a very long circular needle, and I thought, "What a clever idea! No Second Sock Syndrome." However, I didn't need an ultra-long circular needle, so after I found Cat Bordhi's book, Socks Soar on Circular Needles, I thought there might be a way to knit both socks at once. Thank heavens for the Internet: somebody else not only figured out how to do it, but published complete instructions on the 'Net. I sat down with 2 skeins of Paton's merino in a wild variegated, 2 #5 circular needles, took a big leap of faith, and managed to get both socks safely started. It took quite a bit of turning my brain into a pretzel, but both socks are now nearly half-finished. I don't know what's going to happen when I get to the heels (maybe "afterthought heels"?), but I like this method for knitting socks. The only downside is the yarns tangle, so I have to stop periodically and untangle both skeins before I can continue going round and round and round.