Saturday, July 26, 2008

Big House Project 2008

Each summer, we try to do one big project around the house. It's a good time to do things that are either outside (the weather is good), or require both of us (we're both at home). Last year's Big House Project was landscaping the front yard. This year's Big House Project is installing cedar paneling in the closet of my studio.

I have two problems: a) a large quantity of protein-based fibers; and b) something that likes to eat protein-based fibers (either moths or carpet beetles). The critters have occasionally gotten into a skein or two in the studio, but I've been lucky--they haven't found the great mother-lode, my fiber stash. Everything is stored in bags (just in case), and then in those 12-gallon stackable bins--24 12-gallon stackable bins, along with (currently 3) muslin-canvas bags of scoured fleece. I also use No-Moth, a powerful moth killer/repellent, but I'm tired of having the studio smell like mothballs. So, this year's project was to line the closet where the wool (and silk, and camel, and so on) lives until it gets used up.

The closet is 71 inches wide, 25 inches deep, and 108 inches tall. The entire closet has to be paneled--ceiling, walls, floor and (if you're really anal) door--so we got 10 15-square-foot boxes of cedar paneling, several boxes of paneling nails, and set to work. We started off tag-teaming this project: Stephen cut the cedar planks to size, and I put them into place and nailed them down. We quickly found out the first problem: I can't swing a hammer accurately to save my life when I can't see what I'm doing. Did I mention that the closet does not have a light in it? By the time I was half-way up the back wall, I had hit my fingers at least a dozen times. Not good for someone who has to do so much work with their hands. Stephen gently took the hammer out of my hand, and told me to go do something else while he finished the back, did the sides, and tackled the ceiling. Problem #2: There's only 1 joist above the ceiling. Stephen tried gluing the boards into place, but gravity proved too much, and they kept falling on the floor. He finally gave up, swore a lot, but nailed the ceiling into place. I took over when we got to the floor (for some reason, I can swing a hammer straighter when nailing something flat.

Once we finished with the cedar planking, all that was left was installing a nice cove molding to hide the edges. I measured the pieces of cove molding, then gave them to Stephen (along with careful instructions) to cut. Then Stephen brought them in, got back up on the ladder, and started nailing them into place.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with my new stash closet. While it's not very roomy if you're standing in it, the closet is deep enough to hold all 24 storage bins, 3 bags of fleece, a lap inkle loom, a large box loom, and an assortment of other small things, and still be able to get the door closed. My studio now smells like the inside of a cedar chest, and probably will for another six months or so--it's a good thing I like the smell of cedar. My fibers are now safe, and I can concentrate on import

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

SABLE (Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy)

I'll admit it--I have a really, really, really large stash. I'll also admit to being a bit of a packrat. It's probably pretty common for women of my age--we're the children of people that grew up in the Great Depression, and while there was a lot of love, fun, and laughter in my family, there wasn't a lot of money. My mother, bless her dear sweet heart, still pinches pennies until they squeak, and she taught her daughter well; I can pinch pennies with the best of them--a good skill for this time of economic hardship. She taught me to always shop for bargains, and how to substitute (when necessary) to get the results I wanted. I've taken that advice to heart, and I've stockpiled quite a nice little pile of fiber, some of it good, some of it atrocious.

When I married, I had a tiny stash, mostly of very fine needle- point yarns that came from Super Yarn Mart in Southern California. Super Yarn Mart was a wonder--acres of cheap acrylic yarns from the major mills, sold at a fraction of the price of the skeins you could find in TG&Y and Gemco. Super Yarn Mart sold their yarn by the ounce or pound, and it came in huge skeins that had to be wound into balls before it could be used for needlework (this was the days before umbrella swifts and ball winders became standard equipment). The stores were probably terribly tacky by today's standards, but they were full of yarn, carried lots of free patterns, and were a Godsend for fiberholics on tight budgets. Just like any disaster area, there was a little bit of heaven, in the form of their needlepoint yarns. I don't know where they were getting them, but they sold 40-yard skeins of Paternayan as "Persian Wool" for 59 cents a skein. I stocked up when I did a needlepoint for a magazine cover comp/Graphic Design class assignment in college, and those yarns formed the basis of my stash when I finally moved out of the parental abode, along with a book of needlepoint designs and a few knitting and crochet patterns.

The stash grew slowly over the next few years: a ball of crochet cotton here, some more needlepoint yarn there. Because I was still near the family, I often raided Mom's stash for fiber, then supplemented with my own. I started collecting books of vintage needlework patterns as an adjunct to doing historical costuming: some of the first Dover reprints of Weldon's patterns; a copy of The Workwoman's Guide; xeroxes of instructions from the Los Angeles Public Library's bound copies of Godey's Ladies Book. Each time we moved, the stash grew a little larger: I wanted a needlepoint rug for the new house; I crocheted an afghan for the living room. Excess yarns were regularly dropped off to grow Mom's stash. Then we moved to Northern California.

I suddenly found myself in a land where wool was not only wearable during the winter, but nearly mandatory (I thought I was going to freeze to death that first winter). I was living near lots of reenacting opportunities, and hanging with my friends, all of whom have a fine appreciation for mastering historical tasks, whether they are shooting, spinning, or knitting. I needed more fiber in my diet! At first I limited my fiber intake to my usual obsession with stockpiling fabric (but the fabric stash tale is for another time), but I began to get interested in adding the needleworked finishes to my historical garments. I was now 500 miles from Mom's stash, so I started buying my own fibers, stocking up when I found something on sale, and setting things aside for the ever-lengthening project list. Yarns were harder to find (Super Yarn Mart had gone out of business), but I could still find skeins in Michael's and Target, as long as I wasn't too fussy (I wasn't).

We were at Gold Rush Days in Coloma, California when I was introduced to the joys and frustrations of spinning. Another woman had brought her Ashford Elizabeth up to the reenactment to give a spinning demonstration, and was bedeviled by the intracacies of her wheel. I watched her struggle for a while, then asked if I could try when she walked away in disgust. She gave the OK, and I sat down, gave a couple of practice pushes on treadle, and began spinning from the rolag she left hanging down from the orifice. It wasn't great yarn, but I was hooked. Serendipity led Stephen to buy me my own wheel--a Tekoteko Wendy--from a tiny antique store next to our campsite, and I bought my first fleece--a Cotswold hogget--from the shepherd giving a shearing demonstration that same weekend. I was a spinner! Now the stash really began to grow. I started attending a spinning class through Napa Valley College, hanging out with other fiber folk, and buying a fleece or two when I could afford it. I still bought yarn--I wasn't confident enough in my own spinning to start actually using the yarns I was spinning. And I started thinking about weaving. I had done "little kid" weaving projects on looper looms and cardboard looms when I was smaller, and had wanted to take up weaving in college, but the weaving classes were always full, so I focused on printmaking. A friend offered to let me store her floor loom in exchange for use of it, so I started playing with warps and collecting fibers for weaving rebozos. I loved weaving, and when she was ready to move her loom back to her house, I started looking for my own floor loom to keep working. I answered an ad on the bulletin board at Straw Into Gold; the woman who posted it was a long-time weaver that was retiring, and she sold me nearly everything she had. I ended up not only with a floor loom, an inkle loom, a tapestry loom, and a Navajo rug loom, but about 300 pounds of fibers that she had gotten with the loom when she bought it, along with virtually her entire stash. I now had bins of fiber.

Over the years, I've continued to add to the stash faster than I can use it up. It takes time to use up stash, and I've had precious little of that, especially with a full-time teaching position and (this past year) graduate school. To that end, I've been, mostly, very good about not buying more fiber. I've decreased my mill-spun fiber purchases to very little (3 skeins in the past 15 months). Unfortunately, I've upped my quantity of unspun fibers with several fleece purchases, so the stash has grown even larger.

Storage of all this fiber is a problem. Northern California does not get hot enough in the summer to kill off a lot of bugs, and wool is particularly susceptible to both clothes moths and carpet beetles. To that end, we're cedar-lining the closet in my studio (my obsession long ago ago took over one of the bedrooms as an office/studio) to provide a safe habitat for my wools and protein fibers. The non-wool fibers (cottons, linens, and the acrylics I still have) are currently stored in the attic. But most of all--I have got to go on a very restricted fiber diet for a year or two, until I can either use up, sell, or trade away at least some of all this fiber.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hangin' with the Fiber Folk

Like clockwork--an odd saying, as clocks don't always run "like clockwork"--the fiber folk took over Dixon to celebrate all things sheepie at Lambtown USA. This is the 22nd time this festival celebrating Ovis aries has taken place; this year, the festival was back at the Dixon May Fairgrounds, after last year's attempt at having it at another site in Dixon.

A lot of history surrounds both the Dixon May Fairgrounds and Lambtown. The Fairgrounds and the May Fair have been a yearly event since 1874, and for many years, the May Fair (which originally started as a horse-racing event) served as Solano County's yearly agricultural fair. This changed in the early 1950s, when Vallejo offered to be the home of the County Fair (a much cooler place to hold a fair in mid-July), but the Dixon May Fair has continued as the 36th Ag District's yearly agricultural fair. Lambtown began in the mid-1980s as a mid-summer celebration of lamb (as in "leg of") to honor Dixon's largest employer, a lamb packing plant, and to draw people out to the Central Valley community during July--the hottest month of the year. A few years after the start, Lambtown began to include things of interest to the fiber arts community; when the packing plant closed in the late 1990s, Lambtown had incorporated enough fiber-related events that it has continued to be a popular little fiber festival. It has a small-town feel--the entire coordinating committee is only twelve people--and for those of us who like the idea of small towns, it's a chance to get out of suburbia and pretend we're "down on the farm" again.

This year, buzz about Lambtown started early on Ravelry, and by the time the fair rolled around on Saturday, a lot of people were making plans to drive out to Dixon. Carpools were coordinated, a group gathered online, and a Ravelry meet-up was organized--as well as could be by people unfamiliar with the layout of the Fairgrounds. The day arrived, and Jane and I went out early; unlike last year, I opted to save gas (and money) and take my skeins out the day of the festival, rather than driving out to Dixon the day before to drop them off. Getting out there early paid off--we got a parking place near the entrance. This year, Lambtown was given the best gift ever for a festival: lovely weather. Unlike last year, when it was over 100 degrees, this year's festival was hot only if you were in the sun; those of us opting to sit in the shade and spin or knit found the weather to be mercifully cool and pleasant.

The skeins dropped off, we went to explore the Fiber Fair, held in one of the two buildings taken over by the festival. Too much good stuff!! About 30 vendors had their wares spread out for the delectation of fiber fans, and I nearly had "fiber lock" (a condition caused by exposure to too much fiber choice too quickly). There was enough alpaca fleece to clothe an entire troop of Andean actors, hanks of Nancy Finn's luscious hand-painted silk roving everywhere, and something to delight the heart of nearly every spinner or needleworker. Brooke and Maia of Tactile Fiber Arts had more skeins of their natural-dyed yarns (I got a skein from them as a "thank you" gift for Betsy for minding Becky Fatcat while I was at Black Sheep), along with yummylicious hanks of silk-merino roving. They were sharing a booth with A Verb for Keeping Warm, and the entire booth was packed with patrons, petting the yarns and snapping up finds as fast as they could. Carolina Homespun had a huge booth, with lots of wheels to try, and lots of fibers to entice; I was good, and bought only the Strauch flicker I needed to start on all the BLX locks, but Jane spent a long time searching through the collection of spindles until she found her "baby": a Bosworth Maxi, perfect for spinning the bulky yarns she favors. I nearly succumbed to the rainbow-dyed silk hankies at Royal Hare, but I kept remembering all of the stash I currently have: 6 fleeces (or parts thereof), and pounds of other fibers, including silk. No fiber buying for me! I relented a bit, and bought a 2-oz. bump of hemp roving from Cavyshops. Stephen's greatest desire is to have real hemp rope for the linstock of his cannon, so this hemp will be spun and we'll set up a "rope walk" on the sidewalk in front of the house to ply it into the size he needs.

Part of the fun of attending a fiber fair is running into people you know. Pretty early on, Jane and I ran into a bunch of people from the Spindles & Flyers spinning guild in Berkeley, and we all hung out together most of the day, while we shopped, sampled the different food booths (the consensus was "more lamb!"), strolled out to see the sheep dog competition, and hung out with the other Ravelers in the meet-up area, under the big elm between the fiber buildings. At one point, we went to admire the angora bunnies in the wool show building--I lasted about 10 minutes, then fled the building, my eyes itching and nose running. Angora bunnies are so cute--and I'm so allergic. Because the competitions were going on in the same building, and the judging for the skeins and textiles was going on at the same time as the wool judging, I didn't see any of the wool judging this year. It probably was for the best--I really don't need any more fleece! Most of the afternoon was spent in the shade of the big elm, with about forty other spinners and needleworkers, chatting and working.

So, how did my skeins do? Not badly at all, considering that I didn't make the decision to enter until about three weeks ago, and spun the yarn specifically for entering at Lambtown. The two skeins entered were rovings that I had purchased from Carolina Homespun at the spinning event at Retzlaff Winery in June; they spun up nicely, and I decided to enter them for "hoots and giggles." The first was a 4-oz. hank of 100% Targhee roving, hand-painted by the people at Mountain Colors in the same colors as their popular "Northern Lights" yarn. I spun and two-plied it, and got nearly 400 yards out of the 4 ounces. I also got a red second-place ribbon for it, in the 100% handspun wool, plied, class.

The second was a 4-oz. bag of Rainbow Roving, colored "Victoria Into the Woods," from Crosspatch Creations. I was a little surprised when I saw the spun yarn at Black Sheep--it was much more yellow than my roving was. My roving, however, spun up into a heathery green novelty yarn. I tried something different for this roving, after reading different posts online about Paula Simmon's technique for spinning for speed and softness. I normally don't attempt a long draw, but I did on this, and it seems to have paid off--that is a blue ribbon on the skein. I have 350+ yards of 2-ply from this roving; I'm not sure what it will end up as, but it should be something interesting.

Once again, Lambtown was good, old-fashioned summer fun, and it's already on the calendar for attending next year.