Thursday, December 31, 2009

Grrl @ Work

Once again, I've disappeared from the blogosphere for an extended period of time. My disappearance can be summed up in two words:

Graduate School

In mid-August, I was offered the opportunity to finish up a Master of Arts in Educational Technology (the geeky part of education) at Touro University. Finish up this part of my education at a site a few minutes from home, and for less than what the local public universities were charging? I jumped at the chance, even though the course load was going to be heavy (cramming six semester classes into two semesters, rather than the recommended three), and I was teaching two new courses at the high school. It's been a semester full of tight deadlines, missed research opportunities (it took Touro nearly six weeks to grant me access to their library and online research tools), a few sleepless nights, and stress, but the semester finished on December 18 with everything turned in on time to good reviews by my professors and peers. I'll dive back in after the start of the new year, but right now I'm enjoying a too-short break for the holidays.

My refuge from the stress of school (teaching) and school (attending) has been fiber. I haven't been able to get very much spinning done in the past few months, and the stair runner is still on the loom, gently mocking me for starting a project I wasn't able to finish before my schedule filled up. Instead, I've been knitting. I normally knit as a way to stay focused at meetings, but 2009 is a year when I've turned out a large number of small projects. I've tracked them this year by entering each into my Ravelry notebook, and tagged each with "2009fos." Since this is the last day of 2009, it's now time to list what I've finished:

  • 10 bookmarks (which I'm finding very useful)
  • 2 1817 Student Socks, 1 in sock yarn, 1 in DK, to test the pattern
  • 1 Bachelor Tea Cozy, from a pattern in Weldon's
  • 1 Cowl of black baby Alpaca
  • 1 Calorimetry shaped headband out of purple Alpaca
  • 1 pair of Brioche stitch wristwarmers
  • 1 scarf in an old Shetland lace pattern (Razor Clam?) out of fuschia Angora blend
  • 1 Chevron Lace Beret out of the same DK as one of the 1817 Student Socks
  • 1 tiny coiled basket out of some of my handspun
  • 1 Irish Hiking Scarf out of peacock wool
  • 1 scarf based on the Irish Hiking Scarf with additional baby cables out of purple wool
  • 1 beret based on the formula published by Ida Riley Duncan out of purple wool
  • 1 pair of Irish Hiking Wristwarmers out of purple wool
  • 1 pair of children's mittens out of red variegated wool
  • 1 pair of socks out of Opal
  • 2 pairs of socks out of Red Heart's "Heart & Sole" sock yarn
  • 1 pair of slippers out of some old stash wool
  • 1 scarf in Feather & Fan lace out of dark brown variegated wool
All together, I've used up about five pounds of fiber in 2009. I've also traded or given away nearly five pounds of other fibers or yarns I'll never use, and I've purchased very little yarn in the past year, so I'm starting 2010 with a slightly smaller stash than I had at the start of 2009.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Those Who Can...

It's been one of those days when it seems that the entire world is now populated with people that haven't the vaguest idea of what they're talking about. I normally go through life nearly oblivious to these well-meaning souls, usually with nothing more than a slightly pained smile and that most useful of comments, "Well, bless their hearts..." Usually these poor benighted beings avoid me like a form of plague--I can be intimidating under most circumstances, and downright forbidding if I haven't had any coffee. However, the moon must be in just that phase when they all decide it's time to come out of the woodwork--or wherever else they hide hang out--and tell me exactly how to walk, talk, think, or do things. This is not a recipe for happiness: I spend most of my time telling people what to do, not the other way round.

H.L. Mencken once said, "Those who can--do. Those who can't--teach." I think it's time to update that old saw to: "Those who can--do; those who can't--complain interminably on social networking sites." The past 24 hours has been filled with comments by people complaining that they can't: a) travel where they wish; b) have the fiber they wish; or c) do a type of fiber art. An example: someone complains vociferously about how difficult/tiring/time-consuming it is to comb locks with mini-combs. Other posters join in, commiserating on how simply awful it is to use tiny combs to comb ten pounds of fleece. Finally, your intrepid blogger does what needs to be done: gently suggests that it might be best to use big bad English combs for combing the fleece, as that's what they were designed to do. At this point, the excuses begin. English combs are expensive; they are, but so is a spinning wheel, a drum carder, and we aren't even going to talk about the price of a new floor loom. English combs are dangerous, with all those long, sharp tines; so is a 10" French chef knife, and I don't hear anyone complaining about using one of those. English combs are too big and hurt my hands; have you considered doing some hand/wrist exercises? What is not being said: I'd rather use the wrong tools, spend time complaining to others, and then blame my less than satisfactory results on the tools. Poor tools--they were only doing what they were designed to do.

I'm also being plagued by the "ukants": people who say, "You can't do that." "Can't" is a word rarely found in my general vocabulary. There are very few things I can't do; as my dear mother frequently says, "I could probably do brain surgery, given the right training and tools," and I've usually followed that same philosophy. When someone says "can't," if they're lucky, they'll get "The Look"--that sideways over-the-glasses look that teachers give students who are about to do something stupid/wrong/illegal. If they aren't lucky, they may be treated to a "gentle" explanation--in excrutiating detail--of exactly how I will go about doing just what they said I couldn't do, followed up by my giving them several suggestions on what they can do (jump in a lake, kiss a pig, you get the idea).

The latest target of the ukants is my good old Gilmore loom. It's big, it's heavy, it's old, it's noisy, and it weaves like nobody's business. A lot of thread has passed over the warp and breast beams of that loom (it's not dated, but the consensus is that it's from around 1940) in the last 69 years, and it's still going strong. You can imagine my surprise when I was informed that my loom was all wrong--the shafts are too low and there's no way it could possibly make a shed for weaving a rug. Huh? I've woven rugs on it for years--it weaves very nice rugs. Oh no, say the ukants, you have to get a big Swedish loom with a big overhead beater that makes giant sheds to properly weave rugs. Huh? I don't have the room for a big Swedish loom with a big overhead beater, and why do I need a gigantic shed anyway? I weave rugs with ski shuttles that are 1 1/4 inches tall--I need 3 inches, max.

I suspect that some of this pushing back against the ukants (besides being naturally obstinate) is that I didn't learn to weave in a formal setting. I learned to weave the way I learned to knit, to crochet, to sew, to cook, and to make terrific jams and jellies: by learning at the knee of another, asking questions when I didn't understand, and supplementing with a lot of reading. Older weavers, some of whom had been weaving when my loom was new, were patient and generous with their time and knowledge, and answered a child's endless questions on the whys and hows of weaving. It turns out, I have an affinity for the loom and its workings: I can't explain how I know when a warp is tensioned properly, or why I rarely use a temple and still have nearly perfect selvages any more than I can explain how I know when a conserve is cooked enough and is ready for the jars. The knowledge is in my hands and fingers. The ukants, trained in their formal textile labs and classrooms to always do "this" and never do "that," don't grasp that there are others for whom "that" is just what they need to do. For the ukants, the loom is a noisy piece of equipment; for some of us, it's the music of a centuries-old song of labor and love and beauty.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Spin Journal #12B: Romney

While at Black Sheep this year, I got a wild idea for a new project: a ruanna woven from handspun Romney. Finding weft was not a problem--I still have more than 5 pounds of black Romney I purchased several years ago. The weft though, especially given my love for working with stripes, was going to require some thought. At 4:15 a.m. on Sunday morning (right after the rain and the screaming that the wheels were outside in the rain), I had an epiphany--buy a small white Romney fleece, dye the locks, and spin the warp to make stripes. As soon as everything opened up on Sunday morning, I ran over to the wool barn (getting drenched in another shower in the process), found a small bright-white Romney fleece, and carted my little fleece back to camp. It was small enough that when we packed the car, I put it in the almost empty spare wheel well under the rear deck.

When I got the Romney home, the first order of business was to get the locks separated and into nylon netting for washing and dyeing. I'm a firm believer that nylon netting is the most useful fiber prep tool around, because it gives one the ability to both wash and dye locks with a minimum of fuss. The only downside to using nylon netting is the time involved in laying out the locks (tips all going the same way), and wrapping them in the netting. It's not a quick process, especially as I take the time to pick out any second cuts or large pieces of VM. However, I just put on my iPod and get to work, laying out locks, and once three layers of locks were in place, stitching the bags closed. It took the better part of two days to prep the entire 3.87-pound fleece.

Once that was done, it was time to wash. I washed in my usual way (for information on how to do this, see this blog post), but with one difference: rather than rolling each bag into a roll, I found they got cleaner if I simply folded them in half and pinned them to the top of the laundry bag. With three per bag, I had everything enclosed in three laundry bags. Once washed, dried, and weighed, I put the nylon net bags of locks into a large pot of water to stay wet until I was ready to dye them.

Dyeing the locks was also a pretty straight-forward process, once I determined the formulas for the colors I wanted. Most of the colors were plain Jacquard acid dyes, twice the weight of the locks I was dyeing. Two colors needed some "tweaking:" Purple, which ended up a 50/50 mixture of Violet and Lilac, and Green, a 50/50 mixture of the old Robin & Russ Handweavers Dye in Hunter Green and Jacquard's Chartreuse. Dyeing went well, except for the Green: for some reason, the Robin & Russ dye didn't strike (penetrate the fiber), and the locks came out too light. Those will have to revisit the dye pot in the next few days. However, all the other colors came out well.

Next: Combing the locks.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Weave Journal #1: Worms

We need a new runner on the stairs. The current runner is one of those "buy it by the foot" nylon pseudo-Chinese carpeting that used to be sold at home improvement centers, and was in place when we bought the house in early 1994. I think the runner may date from when the house was remodeled, in 1981. It's "woven" in shades of mauve and tan, and after 15-28 years of service, it's looking pretty shabby.

I am perfectly capable of weaving a rug. I've done it before, I have the equipment--a good loom with a heavy beater--and I have the time this summer to complete the project. This is a perfect opportunity to weave a rug with Pendleton "worms."

Pendleton Woolen Mill makes some of the nicest wool fabrics and blankets around. I have one of their "Glacier National Park" (aka "candy stripe") blankets, and it's the blanket that I sleep under whenever I go camping. The process for making these blankets is pretty straightforward, and they're finished with a neat serged binding. As part of this binding process, 1/4" to 1/2" of each side of the blanket is trimmed off, making these long strips known as "worms." Pendleton figured out pretty quickly that people were buying the trimmings for weaving rag rugs, so they box them up and sell them, 50 cents a pound plus shipping to wherever you are. I called them on Tuesday morning and ordered a 25-pound box of worms. Our friendly UPS man lugged a huge box up the stairs and dropped it on our porch this afternoon. I had my worms.

Getting the worms was just the first step. Pendleton doesn't make just blankets; they make a variety of different types and weights of woolen fabrics. An order of worms contains everything from the trimmings pile, so the worms have to be separated by weight and color. Fortunately, it's not difficult, as the worms are not thoroughly mixed together, but it is time-consuming to empty a 25-pound box and bag up the separated contents. My box was about 1/3 trimmings from the lightweight blanket fabrics in cream, taupe, and chocolate brown, about 1/3 trimmings from the unfulled wool/cotton blankets, and about 1/3 trimmings from their legendary National Park blankets. I sorted everything, and it appears I may have enough of the heavy trimmings for at least one of the stair runners (there are two--above the landing and below the landing). The cream, taupe, and brown worms will go into various dyepots and will become another rug.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

...Three Bags Full

The big reason to travel to Eugene every June for the Black Sheep Gathering is to partake of the great Wool Show and Sale. This year, I missed the judging, as I was either in class (Friday) or frantically shopping in between classes (Saturday morning). This year's judging was done by Mark Eidman, and from what his clerk staff has reported, it was tough--this year's fleeces were exceptionally fine.

People were also in a mood to buy. Every year, there is a room off the main Wool Show space for Class 00--For Sale Only fleeces. It can be a good place to pick up a decent fleece for a bargain price, as these fleeces are not part of the regular Wool Show and aren't judged. I trotted across the parking lot on Friday afternoon to check on what was in the Sale Room. I expected to find a good number (50 or so) fleeces; I found a lot of nearly empty tables and half a dozen marginal fleeces. When I asked the exhausted-looking women "manning" the Sale Room, they told me it had been like a scene from the Oklahoma land rush: 100+ fleeces sold in less than 6 hours.

I knew I had one fleece--the incomparable BLX, waiting patiently for me to pick it up. Thank heavens I had been able to secure it before the show! I met up with Liz Hubbard of Hub Corriedales and picked up my lovely baby. This year's fleece rivals last year in length and crimp; only the weight is less (6 pounds instead of 10+ pounds). I lugged the box back to camp and locked it in the car--nobody was going to get my precious!

However, one fleece was not going to be enough. I really wanted a charcoal gray fine wool fleece, and since the Sale Room was empty, I was going to have to pin my hopes on the Wool Sale itself. When the viewing time came on Saturday afternoon, I started looking for good charcoal gray fleeces. I found one, started to examine it, when someone said, "You seem to have picked up an entourage." Sure enough, people were starting to follow me around to see which fleeces I was selecting. I actually had to bare my teeth and snarl, "This isn't a field trip--go away!" I wandered away, and once I knew I was alone again, I "casually" found exactly what I was looking for--a glorious dark charcoal merino fleece from Nebo-Rock Ranch, with a blue ribbon on top of the fleece in the bag. Once outside waiting for the sale to begin, I explained to my "runner" that she needed to quickly walk over to that fleece while I walked over to my second choice; if I saw that she had gotten it, I would come over to her to claim that fleece. Our plan worked like clockwork, and within a few minutes of the start of the sale, I had my fleece.

Sometime the right fleece for a project simply pops up. I was satisfied with both my fleeces, and was starting to think about what I could do with them, and with the other fleeces I'm still working my way through. I have a particularly nice black Romney from Ace in the Hole Ranch that I bought at Lambtown in 2007; it's washed, and I've been slowly combing and spinning it. Early Sunday morning (at 4:15 a.m. to be exact), I had an epiphany and knew what I needed to do with that fleece--weave a ruanna. However, I needed a small, good, white Romney fleece to dye for warp. Sunday morning I trotted back over to the Wool Sale (and got caught in a rain shower), thinking that if I found a small, good, white Romney for a good price, I'd have my warp. Romney sheep are not small animals and they do not produce small fleeces--8-10 pounds is more normal for them. However, I found a lovely bright-white Romney fleece that hadn't placed because it was "too small" (3.87 pounds). Perfect! It was less than $35. Even better! I had my small, good, white Romney at a good price.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Good-bye God, I'm Going to Black Sheep (Again)

June rolls around and two things happen: school finishes for the year, and the entire fiber-related community (that matters) makes the pilgrimage to Eugene to spend three days ogling fleece, rovings, tops, yarns, dyes, and loads of spinning equipment. It's time for the annual Black Sheep Gathering!

This year, I drove. Normally, I take the train. It's simple: get on the train in Martinez at 11:00 on Wednesday night, wake up near Mount Shasta on Thursday morning, have breakfast and lunch on the train, attempt to take over the lounge car with spinners and knitters, and generally have a good time before arriving in Eugene around 1:00 in the afternoon. Then, it's just drag the gear out to the fairgrounds and get camp set up. However, I really wanted to try making the drive, both because I can take a bunch of extra stuff, and because this year both Betsy and Jane were going to go along with me. If three go, the costs of driving up there, getting a hotel room, and eating out should still be cheaper than traveling by train, right?

I will not miss Black Sheep, barring something truly serious (e.g., major hospitalization), so when Betsy called on Tuesday around lunchtime to say she finally heard from the company she's been trying to get an interview with and she couldn't go, I started to shift gears to take my own car and just Jane and I going up there. No problem, I can handle this, I just need to finish cleaning the disgustingly dirty house so it's fairly reasonable when Jane gets here to spend the night before leaving.

At 6:30 p.m., the 100-year-old plumbing in the upstairs bathroom finally gasped its last and sprung a leak. Fortunately, it's a leak in the drain portion, so I didn't have water squirting everywhere, but I had water pouring onto the floor every time I turned on the shower...and it was past the time I could call the plumber. I am still going to Black Sheep--plumbing or no plumbing. I called Jane and let her know the plumbing situation ("Shower at home--the dodgy bathroom plumbing has gone sideways and we're not sticking around waiting for a plumber tomorrow."), grab some towels and the world's fastest shower (<60 style="font-weight: bold;">Rain Sounds Like Popcorn on a Nylon Tent

Friday, May 29, 2009

Chained to the Sewing Machine

After a very long time, I am willingly "chained to the sewing machine," finishing clothes to wear to the Pacific Primitive Rendezvous. After several years, the organizers of the rendezvous have very kindly decided to hold the event in Northern California, about three hours from home. Since they've been so considerate, I'm returning the favor by attending this year.

For those unfamiliar with rendezvous and other Fur Trade Era fun, a rendezvous is a late-18th/early-19th century historical event that attempts to recreate the big rendezvous of the Fur Trade Era (1831-1842). These events included shooting events, a lot of shopping (the purpose was to sell the pelts collected and buy supplies for the upcoming year), and a great deal of drinking and swapping lies. The present-day rendezvous continue in that tradition. The Pacific Primitive runs for about 7 days, and I'm planning on attending the first 3 days before returning home, repacking the car, and traveling up to Eugene (Oregon) for this year's Black Sheep Gathering.

I haven't been to a rendezvous in 15 years. I haven't even done very much reenacting in the past few years. As a result, I need clothes. Since the clothes I need aren't exactly something that comes off the rack at Kohl's, I have to make them myself. This isn't difficult--I've been sewing for more than 40 years--but does require some organization, always a tough thing at this time of year. I need two new skirts and probably new underpinnings, so I have some work to do.

The skirts are important (I can't run around without a skirt--it simply isn't done), so they're first on the list. I have some hand-dyed green linen for one skirt, but I need some red fabric for a second skirt. Fortunately, Hancock's had 5 yards of perfect dark cherry-red cotton and I had a 50% off coupon. Score one skirt! I hustled back home with my booty and washed it while I excavated the sewing room.

The problem with not sewing on a regular basis is that the sewing room becomes a place to store things I really should put away. I stacked things in there when we painted the studio in March, and now it was time to get them out of there. After several hours, I had a functioning sewing room again, the ironing board was set up, and I was ready to start knocking out skirts.

The skirts are classic Californio skirts: 3 tiers of gathers, simple waistband. I tore the linen into strips the width I needed, sewed the tiers, and gathered them. Ugh--gathering that much fabric (the bottom hem is about 150 inches) is a pain! However, I finally got everything gathered and sewn together before I called it a night. The next morning, I tackled the second skirt. I wasn't looking forward to repeating the gathering, and remembered that I had a ruffler for one of my sewing machines. The problem? Figuring out which machine it worked with. My Viking was ruled out pretty quickly, as was the Pfaff 230. I thought it might fit on the old White Dressmaker, but it didn't. Becoming desperate, I moved everything off the cabinet of my tried and true Kenmore, and tried the ruffler on it. Success! I ruffled the strips and sewed the second skirt in a few hours.

I handsew my hems and waistbands. I don't need to--I have a machine that does beautiful machine-sewn hems--but every time I do, I can hear my mother saying, "It would look better if you did that by hand." OK, Mom--I'll do it by hand. Handsewing hems in these skirts is time-consuming, but not tedious. I have a lot of British TV on the computer in the studio, so I just clamped my sewing bird onto my work table and sewed the hems and waistbands while watching episodes of Doctor Who and Torchwood. The skirts just need buttonholes in the waistbands and buttons sewn on, and they're finished.

It's been surprisingly pleasant to sew costumes again, so I've begun planning the next big ensemble: a 1880s (2nd Bustle) walking outfit, out of striped cotton upholstery fabric and brick red cotton velvet. The goal is to get it finished (along with a complete set of new underpinnings) in time to wear it to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair in December. If I start it this summer, I just might have it finished in time!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fomenting Weavolution

Nine months ago, a small group of women decided that the fiberarts world needed a social networking site. Ravelry, created in April, 2007, was growing by leaps and bounds (350,000+ members as of this date), but Ravelry was designed for knitters and crocheters, not weavers and spinners. In spite of gentle noodging by Ravelers that spin and weave, the site couldn't do certain things, such as accommodate weaving drafts or catalog the mountains of fiber, thread, and yarn spinners and weavers quickly attract. Tien, Claudia, and Allison, weavers all, began work on the site, which is now--after eight months of raising money and design work--nearly ready to launch.

A few weeks ago, Tien put out the call for people to start helping get the site ready for the world. The technical end was almost completed: it was time to debug and load content (a fancy tech word for "data") before asking victims volunteers to try out the new site. I'm either a glutton for punishment, or have a secret desire to abandon my comfy world of academia for the insanity of high-tech (or both): I volunteered to help out, as did about a dozen other people.

The best way to clean up and prep a site for launch is to "divide and conquer": everybody takes on a portion of the site as their responsibility, and starts making notes on what is broken, what needs tweaking, and what content is needed to make the site attractive to users. I snagged
  • Looms and their manufacturers
  • Groups
  • Forums
Groups and Forums aren't too difficult--sort out the problems, decide how the two are linked together, and write a short "help" guide for people trying to create or join groups or post messages on a forum. Looms and their manufacturers is quite another story, however.

Weaving is a task that requires technology, even if that technology might appear to be nothing more than a bundle of sticks and strings, or something so small you can hold it in the palm of your hand. One of the features built into the site is the ability to catalog looms owned by a weaver, so all the information they need, such as the type of loom, who built it, and its size, is at one's fingertips. Weavers need this feature because we don't have just one loom: we collect equipment and tools the way a knitter collects knitting needles. An inventory of my own collection of looms revealed
  • 1 floor loom (my beloved Gilmore X-frame)
  • 2 inkle looms (1 floor, 1 lap)
  • 1 Navajo loom
  • 1 tapestry loom
  • 6 frame looms (2x2, 4x4, 2x4, (2) 4x6, 12x16)
and this list doesn't include the rigid heddle loom I'd like to buy, nor the Gilmore Gem I'd kill for to put in the studio for weaving samples, nor the Macomber I'd like to own if money and space were no object, nor the top-of-the-line AVL CompuDobby I'd make space for because I love technology, and an almost completely automated flyshuttle loom that can weave nearly anything just sounds so very cool.

So, inventories are necessary, but to build inventories, you need data--lots of data--on the looms and their manufacturers. I didn't realize until I started on this project how many companies manufactured looms during the 19th and 20th centuries. There are currently about two dozen loom manufacturers, ranging from tiny handheld portable looms to big industrial-sized looms. That's not too bad, and I gathered all the contact information in a couple hours. The real job began when I started to list the looms made by companies no longer in business. There were scores of loom manufacturers, most of them very tiny, that produced looms for farms and small weaving shops between 1880 and World War II and beyond. Many of these looms are still in use in homes, studios, and schools today, and will eventually end up in someone's inventory on Weavolution. I've put out the call for information on most of the weaving-related listservs, and I'm getting a lot of names; now I have to dig for more information, and load all this data in before the site moves to Alpha testing on Saturday.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Got Bupkis

I've hit the wall, word-wise. I can't think of a single thing to write about that's appropriate for a blog entry. I don't even have any pretty pictures to post. I feel like I should be saying, "Forgive me Father, for I have's been two weeks since my last blog entry...", but that could be construed as blasphemous by some people, so I won't.

Right this moment, I'm trying to split my time between
  • Monitoring the computer system running BitTorrent
  • Combing some of the free merino fleece I scored last weekend at a demo
  • Reading different threads on Ravelry
  • Writing a blog entry
None of these are things I should be doing. I should be grading notebooks and preparing the last progress report of the year before final grades in June (27 more days!). However, I'm a firm believer in never doing today what you can put off until tomorrow, so the notebooks sit. They'll still be there tomorrow, and Saturday, and Sunday, and maybe even on Monday (grades are due by 4:00 p.m., Pacific Time, on Tuesday).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Black Holes and Electronic Time Sinks

Some people think black holes are a myth. I can't speak intelligently on the fine points of black holes--or quantum physics, for that matter--but I can prove one exists in my computer, and it's sucking up my time. I should be fair to my poor little laptop--the black hole in it isn't unique. There's one in the big 19-inch flat-screen monitor the laptop is frequently attached to in the studio. There's one in the TV in the kitchen. And there's a really big one in the living room, in close proximity to the home entertainment system. All of these black holes seem to attract me, pulling me into their orbit and suctioning off seconds, minutes, and hours until I wonder what happened to all my free time.

I like technology. Technology is my friend, and that wonderful, vast network of networks (the Internet) encircling the globe has allowed me to explore libraries, visit museums, and talk to people around the world, transcending time and space. However, all this lovely technology takes time--inordinate amounts of time. A lovely example is the time I spent this weekend with the laptop, a high-speed connection, several pieces of software, and a large quantity of time. I downloaded a bunch of rare episodes of Doctor Who, along with the recently aired (in Britain) Doctor Who Easter special, Planet of the Dead, and two of the most recent episodes of another British sci-fi sitcom, Red Dwarf. Once downloaded, the recently-aired TV programs had to be converted to a format compatible with the DVD recorder in the home entertainment system ("ripping"). The downloading wasn't a problem--I can read and answer e-mail, chat with people, and blog as necessary while downloading, but ripping is another matter. Ripping requires most of the available memory (I have 2GB of RAM), so everything else s l o w s t o a c r a w l while the software works its magic...slowly. I have to keep checking back on the progress of the programs while they're working, and each time I sit down, I have to swing through my e-mail accounts and check the Ravelry fora for any new messages. And there goes a bit more time, lost while sitting in front of the computer instead of my wheel, or with my needlework in my hands.

Is there a solution for this odd time-space problem? I haven't come up with one...yet. But give me time; if I don't lose it to the black hole inside this little box, maybe I can come up with a solution.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Space To Call My Own

This is what a finished, tidy fiber studio looks like:

The painting is finished and dry, the curtains are hung, the furniture and equipment is all back in place. The only thing missing is my wheel, which was still downstairs in the living room when these photos were taken last night. Even the desk is clean! This state of affairs lasted 15 minutes--about the time it took to snap the pictures, complete with the happy artist standing in the doorway of her studio.

As lovely as a clean studio looks, it doesn't stay that way for very long because I need to work. The current work is finishing the picking and carding of nearly all the washed fiber I still have. There are two fleeces I'm not touching: the white Border Leicester cross that I carefully washed by the lock is done until I start to use the locks; and the black Romney I bought from Ace Vandernack a couple years ago that is awaiting combing. However, there's more than enough for me to do right now.

One of the tasks I set myself this week was to go through the fiber stash thoroughly, both to check on the condition of my fibers, and to refresh my memory regarding what I currently have. It's quite a bit of fiber, including:

  • 1/2 a black Jacob
  • a moorit Border Leicester
  • the above-mentioned black Romney
  • the above-mentioned white Border Leicester/Corridale/Merino
  • a black Merino, already turned to pin-draft
  • a Romney/Coopworth hogget, turned to batts
and lesser amounts (usually a pound of each) of dyed merino, superwash merino, gray Shetland, black Shetland, Leicester, Jacob, Gotland, and Blue-Faced Leicester tops. All in all, it's a lot of fiber, enough to keep me spinning for a while.

However, fibers have to be made ready to spin before they can be spun, so I'm picking and carding the moorit Border Leicester and the Jacob. Quite frankly, I had forgotten I had that fleece--I carded half of it on Joan Kintcher's big Duncan double-wide motorized carder in 1997, and although I washed the other half of the fleece, I hadn't carded it when I stopped attending the spinning class. The remaining fleece, stored in a bin, has sat since that time, waiting for me to remember that it was there. I pulled it out and checked it, and it's fine; more than I can say for the yarn I did spin from this fleece (it was attacked by moths and was thrown out several years ago).

The Jacob is completely different than the Border Leicester--it's soft and bouncy, more like a Down sheep than the longwools I've been handling recently. Picking it is different--it jack-rabbits through the picker and into the box, so it doesn't take long to fill the box with fiber to be carded. Carding takes time and muscles--I've discovered that I can pick enough fiber to fill the box in less than ten minutes, but it can take 20-30 minutes to card that same fiber. It's work to do the carding, and I find myself wishing I had a motorized carder to make the job easier, but I know it will be done (eventually), and I can relax.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ten Percent

Why is it that the last ten percent of any project seems to take as long as the first ninety percent? I'm finding that's truly the case with finishing the studio. I'm ninety percent finished, but I just can't seem to get the last few little things finished.

Part of the delay might have been a weekend full of delightful interruptions. After writing the last entry, I went back and was able to put on the final coat of trim paint before falling into first the shower and then into bed. On Friday morning, I started putting the studio back in order. First on the list: replace the light fixture with the new light ordered from Rejuvenation Lighting, our favorite source for period lighting fixture. We went with a very classic flush-mount ceiling fixture and a "school house" shade similar to others in the house. Once that was installed, we put the bookcases back against the wall, this time with holes cut for access to the blocked outlets. For the first time in fifteen years, I have electric power on the far wall! Everything else went into place slowly, as I carefully cleaned behind, under, and around each item before it was put into place. I finished most of the furniture moving by Friday afternoon, and called it a day; I had a spinning group meeting to attend!

Saturday, I spent the day in a spinning workshop taught by renowned fiber artist Judith MacKenzie McCuin. She teaches a workshop and gives a lecture to the guild every March; this year's workshop topic was "Fleece Evaluation," and we spent the day looking at different fleeces and wool, spinning some of them, and carting away baskets of samples. It was a good workshop for everyone, and we are all now filled with enthusiasm for the Black Sheep Gathering's big wool show and sale in June.

After the workshop, I dropped Jane off at her house and began the shopping to finish the studio. A trip to IKEA netted new curtain rods and two picture frames, but the hardware store was closed by the time I finally got there at 7:45 p.m. (they closed at 6:00). I was in Pinole, on my way home, when I suddenly thought: Orchard Supply Hardware! Sure enough, they were still open, and a bevy of bored store clerks were more than willing to help me find the odd litle items (1/4-20 wing nuts, a small sink plunger, and picture rail hooks) still on my list. They were so sweet and patient--I was so tired after two days of moving furniture and spinning that I was punchy--and I was soon on my way home with more items crossed off my list.

Sunday dawned and I hustled back down to the East Bay for the Spindles & Flyers meeting and lecture by Judith on the development of different sheep breeds. The meeting was packed, the talk informative, and when it was over, I went back over to the hardware store (now open) to get the last item on the list: picture hooks. No such luck--the only picture hooks available were inexpensive stamped brass that I know better than to use (they don't stay on the picture rail). At some point, I'll have to order more hooks from Rejuvenation Lighting, but I have to be miserly with the hooks I currently have.

After two more days of putting things away, hemming curtains, and running errands, the studio is nearly complete. I've done some rearranging of storage, so I need to make another trip to IKEA to get more little wooden storage cabinets and baskets for the shelves, then finish putting the last things away. I have two fleeces out to pick and card once the studio reaches 100%.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

...And Then We Paint (and Paint and Paint)

I can't believe I'm able to write this--I have one coat of paint to put on the trim and I'm finished (except for putting everything back). Three hard days of work, but the studio is looking really sharp. The gray is perfection: exactly neutral, it reflects the color of the light outside, so when it's early or late, the walls seem a warm gray, while looking cool and slightly blue in the middle of the day. The white ceiling reflects additional light into the room, while all the white trim "pops," and sets off the gray. I'm planning on hanging more artwork in the studio, and the gray walls will show the art to its best advantage; one area is being kept clear, so I have a place to photograph fiber.

I'm looking forward to finishing, and moving everything back into place. I miss my studio!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

...Then We Prime...

The priming is done, and I'm only a day behind schedule! If I was a responsible, energetic person, I'd put the first coat of paint on the ceiling this evening, but I'm not that responsible, and I don't have that much energy.

Spackling the cracks put me behind, because I had to spackle not once, but twice. I was filled with enthusiasm for fixing all those pesky cracks on Sunday evening, and had them all neatly filled before calling it a day on Sunday night. On Monday morning, I went in to check if all my handiwork was dry. Much to my disgust, I discovered that the fancy "polyester elastomer" spackle had shrunk into the cracks, rather than filling them. Feh! Not only do I have to redo all that work, but I have to find something that is going to work!

Home Depot carries an amazing number of different products to fill holes and cracks in walls. Powders, pastes, for plaster, for drywall, and so on. One of the newest (and neatest) is spackle that goes on pink, but dries white and can be sanded. I bought a bucket, went back home, and spackled the entire room...again. However, this time the product worked; as small cracks began to turn white, I could see that they were completely filled and ready for sanding. It took longer for the large areas and deep patches to dry, so I decided to wait until today to do the priming.

While I was waiting for the spackle to dry, I decided to make use of the time and get some dyeing done. I dyed several pounds of Border Leicester/Corriedale/Merino locks last summer, but I didn't have any orange dye at the time; I attempted to mix an orange using red and yellow, but ended up with red-orange. At that time, I also dyed some locks black, but for some reason they came out dark gray. This time, I have the orange dye and the time to try again for a good black. I sewed some of the net "envelopes" I washed the locks in closed, set them to soak, then decided that I wanted to also dye some roving, so I dug out the dyeing crockpot and measured out some roving.

Dyeing the locks was a pretty straight-forward affair. I've used Jacquard dyes for years, and they usually perform just as I expect. This time was no different. I measured out the dyes, added them to the pots on the stove, put the locks in, and brought each up to temperature. I used vinegar, rather than citric acid, to acidulate each vat, and as I was doing so, I suddenly realized:

Citric Acid: 4% of WOG = Vinegar (5% strength): 100% of WOG

Once each vat reached temperature (190 degrees for 15 minutes), I pulled each off the stove to let the locks cool overnight.

That left the roving. I was in a mood to play, so I measured out royal blue, dark green, and violet dye solutions, added the vinegar to acidulate, and poured each solution into a squeeze bottle. I coiled the soaked roving in the bottom of the crockpot, and went "Jackson Pollack" on the roving with the squeeze bottles. I set the crockpot on "Low," and left it for three hours, then unplugged it and let the roving cool overnight.

This morning I washed and rinsed everything, and put it out to dry while I primed the studio. It takes an amazing amount of paint--two gallons--to prime an entire room. I got through the cutting in (and got a blister from the piant brush), rolled primer onto the ceiling and walls, and primed the doors and windows. As usual, paint was everywhere, including all over me.

With the painting out of the way, I spent the afternoon dyeing more roving. My experiments continue--this time, I braided the roving before putting it in water to soak. The braid helps keep the roving together, but it's harder to get the dyes to penetrate fully without making the roving too wet. I found I could open the braid up, and by using the squeeze bottles, could get some nice effects. I tried to keep it pretty simple, using three-color combinations (light green, turquoise, lilac; red, purple, blue), but I let Stephen pick the colors for one braid, christened the "Firebird": yellow, orange, red, with a violet "kicker." Once each braid was dyed, it was wrapped securely in plastic wrap, slipped into a ziploc bag, and microwaved. I let each cool, then washed and rinsed. After a quick spin in the washer, I unbraided each braid (easier than it sounds) to dry.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

First We Prep...

I dislike painting. I dislike the disruption to my routine, I dislike tearing a room apart, I dislike prepping, I dislike the actual painting, I dislike the cleanup. The only thing I like about painting is the clean, tidy look right after I'm finished--in my studio, that will last about 15 minutes.

I particularly dislike prepping. Prepping is annoying because it has to be done, but there's no lasting benefit--unless you count not having paint all over everything permanently. However, I am not a neat painter, so painstaking prep work is essential.

My mother is a neat painter. I have no idea how she does it, unless it's from years of painting, first with those oil-based paints that were full of lead, and more recently with latex-based paints. She gets up on a Saturday morning, pulls out the old paint roller and older paint tray and gets to work. It seems she needs only a single piece of yesterday's newspaper, no matter the size of the job, and there are never any drips, spilled paint, or goofs--she simply doesn't allow it.

I, on the other hand, and one of the messiest painters around. The only time my can of paint doesn't have drips around it is when it's still at the paint store. When I paint, it is on everything and in everything--I've ruined pairs of eyeglasses by wearing them while painting a ceiling, and nearly every floor in the house has a few little drops and drips of paint on them. Prepping is an absolute necessity.

After moving all the furniture and equipment to the middle of the room yesterday, I took the time to start scraping open the cracks in preparation for spackling them. New problem: after 100 years, the finish coat on the plaster is finally beginning to fail. Several large pieces came away as I was scraping open the cracks, so I'll have to do some fancy faux-plasterwork to fix the spots. Scraping and spackling is an exercise in futility. The house is "indeterminate framing" (basically, a box)--good for flexing under shear stresses (e.g., it moves but doesn't collapse in an earthquake), but tough on inflexible materials, such as plaster. Add to that a condition known as "soil heave," and you have a house that is always in need of spackling. A lot of our neighbors have ripped out the plaster and replaced it with more flexible gypsum dryboard (sheetrock), but I am trying to hang onto the plaster as long as I can: replacing plaster with sheetrock requires a professional and is expensive.

Once most of the cracks were scraped open, and the debris swept up, it was time for covering and taping. This is the hardest part of the prep work, but the most important. Guaranteed: if I don't cover it with taped-down plastic, it will have paint on it before I'm finished. Two 10x20' plastic drop cloths were enough to cover the gigantic mound of furniture in the middle of the room. Once covered, I went around the room, carefully taping down heavier 3' wide plastic. All the window frames were taped, the face-plates for the outlets and light switch removed, and the outlets and light switch themselves covered with painters tape. It took several hours, but I'm finally ready to start spackling and priming.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Am My Mother's Daughter

A year ago, I was in sunny southern Spain, sipping sangria on a sandy beach in Marbella. Every even-numbered year, we go away--preferably to to some place warm and sunny--and last year it was to Spain for a week, followed by five days in London before returning to the Bay Area. It was a lovely vacation.

However, this is an odd-numbered year. Even if it wasn't, the economy--both national and personal--have made travel next to impossible. Because we aren't traveling, the two weeks of Spring Break are a perfect time to do a Big Project. This year's Big Project is repainting my studio.

I love my studio. I love that I have a place to call my own, to mess up (and clean up) as I please. However, even the nicest place occasionally needs a bit of "freshening up." The studio was painted in a hurry-up fashion in March, 1994; a paint job necessitated by the absolute revulsion I felt whenever I walked into a room with bubblegum pink walls, and complicated by my being in a cast from my toes to my hip and unable to do much more than sit in a wheelchair. Stephen was a lamb and got rid of the pinkness in my studio, but I've had Sea Mist Green walls for fifteen years, and it's time for a change. It's time for the green to go, and with two weeks off, I have the time. I mentioned to Betsy that I was going to spend my Spring Break painting the studio; she just chuckled and said, "Of course you are--you are your mother's daughter." (My mother is famous for spending the spare time of a long weekend painting the interior of her house; we joke that the house is smaller inside from so many coats of paint.)

First big "problem": there is a lot of stuff in my studio. In addition to two file cabinets, there are two large bookcases, two small bookcsaes, a large worktable, a floor loom, several small small chests of drawers, and my combing stand. There are also a lot of boxes and baskets of things that need to be put away. All this stuff has to be moved away from the walls so we can get to them, plus everything has to be protected from the spackle, primer, and paint. I began moving things on Friday evening after work, and quickly realized that moving things when one is tired is folly. It takes three times as long to accomplish anything, and I won't remember what is where because I put it there when I was tired. I gave up, went to bed and vowed to make a real start on Saturday morning.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spin Journal #12A: Silly Sally Spider Sat Spinning Silk

It's such a lovely feeling of accomplishment when you look at a finished skein of yarn. No longer are you contemplating bobbins full of singles. No longer are you sighing over the time it's taking to spin a very fine thread evenly and consistently. It's done! You can sit back and marvel at the beauty you have added to the world.

Back in November(?) I started spinning a batt I bought at Black Sheep last summer. It was a lovely batt: 40% pygora, 40% alpaca, 18% bombyx silk, and 2% yak, in a lovely shade of lavender. This was going to be my personal challenge--spin it as fine as I possibly could, and see if I could get enough for a large scarf or shawl out of its tiny two ounces, along with two ounces of something else that could be spun fine. I spun. I spun some more. Then I spun some more very fine thread. Who knew that two measly ounces could be so much!?!

I finally finished the batt, and turned to the next bit to be spun: two ounces of handpainted roving. Not just any roving: handpainted bombyx (silk) roving from Chasing Rainbows. The colorway is "Purple Haze," a variegated roving in shades of medium purple, deep purple, and silver gray. The medium shade was a match for the spun pygora, so I was looking at the possibility of creating a yarn that would have color definition both in minute detail, and over the range of several stitches. This could be interesting!

I finished spinning the silk at the end of February and started plying. I quickly discovered that, while my double-treadle Sonata is great for spinning, it's not so good for plying. I ply very fast, and, since I want to get it d.o.n.e., I try to ply everything all at once. Treadling away as fast as my little feet could go, I plyed, and plyed, and plyed, and still couldn't get more than half of the plying finished at one go. There was a lot of thread on those two bobbins! It took two days to finally finish all the plying.

Reeling the finished yarn off the bobbin was a shock--it just kept coming and coming. By the time it was finished, I had 837 yards of finished lace-weight 2-ply that tipped the scales at a tiny 123 grams (4.3 ounces). The finished yarn has been wet-finished (washed, thwacked against the side of the clawfoot tub to fluff up the fibers, and dryed). While not absolutely perfect--there are the odd slubs and occasional boucle loops from combining two strands with different characteristics--the yarn itself is a glorious combination of purple and silver. The silk, carefully spun as a true worsted, sparkles and shines, while the pygora and alpaca beg to be touched.

This finished beauty needs a design to show off its best qualities, so I'm swatching (with other laceweight) the lace pattern for a Canadian Cloud, originally published in Weldon's Practical Knitter around 1890. A Canadian Cloud is a combination hood and scarf: approximately 20 inches wide, and 72 inches long, one end of the scarf is finished with a large tassel that serves as a counterweight, while the other end is folded and sewn to create a hood. The Canadian Cloud is worn by putting the hood part on the head, then wrapping the end twice around the neck with the end thrown over the shoulder in a dashing manner. The tassel weights the end and keeps the Cloud closed. It should make a pretty, light-weight head scarf for next winter.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Go Outside and Play!

Sometimes, you just have to stop for a bit. I spent three hours this morning trying to write a blog entry, basically a rant on the idiocy of people that expect the customer service of a Fortune 500 company from a 1-person fiber microbusiness, but to no avail--all I was doing was making myself angry and incoherent. Angry, I don't mind, but incoherent is itself annoying. I could hear that internal voice stating firmly, "Step away from the computer. Go outside and play." So I obeyed.

Lo and behold, there was a lovely day outside! Winter in Northern California never ceases to amaze me. I grew up in Southern California, where "winter" is an occasional gray, rainy day with temperatures in the low '60s. Here in the Bay Area, winter is an actual season. I have a reason to own multiple sets of gloves, mittens, wristies, scarves, and hats, along with several different coats. I even have two umbrellas! Winter in the Bay Area means (usually) a lot of very cold rain and going days--sometimes weeks--without seeing the sun. I kid you not--one year (1998) we had measurable rain every single day January. Newspapers reported sheep turning green as the VM in their wool sprouted. Winter seems to last forever here; then the weather pattern changes, the rain goes away, and everyone is startled by the beautiful Northern California in late winter. The sky is a very blue blue, studded with cottony white clouds sailing above emerald green hills. Everything looks freshly scrubbed. The air warms in the sun, and a gentle breezes carries the unmistakable scent of orange blossoms.

Right now the yard is, quite frankly, a mess. Not much grows until the rains start, and once they start, it's impossible to do any gardening. As a result, I let everything go until most of the winter rains are done, and our first big yard clean-up takes place in late March or early April. Today I just wandered around to see what was happening. The daffodils I planted 18 months ago have naturalized, and are poking up through the oxalis, trying to be brave in spite of being beaten down by the heavy rains. The deep purple early irises, originally confused by some very late warm weather in December, have recovered and are beginning to bloom, letting me know that the other irises will follow along eventually. My much-worried-over Kaffir lily is finally pot-bound enough to attempt a bloom this year, while the tiny pine tree--a Christmas gift from a fellow teacher two Christmases ago--is tiny no more, but now a small shrub.

I can't simply look, admire, and plan--before I knew it, I was pulling a weed here, or a misplaced bit of crab grass there. I checked on the kitchen herbs and found, to my delight, that the thyme thrived over the winter, and the oregano turned into a dense velvety mat in its pot. I weeded the herbs and other potted plants, checked on how a few other plants fared, and finally stopped to marvel at the Tuscan rosemary on the patio. After 4 years, it has become a large shrub, covered in tiny blue flowers. A gentle hum rose from it, as dozens of bees circled around it, finding fresh flowers to sample. Above it, the plum tree hosted its own white and green buffet for the bees in the hope that the magic of pollination would result in fertilization and eventually plums.

After an hour puttering about in the garden, a bit of clean-up is done, and I'm feeling charitable once more. Sometimes, the best solution to a problem is to go outside and play!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

SpinJournal #12: Pick a Card

Today is the Big Day! I'm going to pick those fleeces and get them whipped into something closer to spinning shape than scoured fleece in laundry bags.

I got my picking station set up, and started on the Romney/Coopworth hogget I bought last June. It's a good fleece to start with: lovely-soft, but full of VM (vegetative matter--hay, sticks, dead lady bugs) and second-cuts. I started to comb the fleece, but that's taking forever, and the lock structure is not as intact as I would like for combing. The fleece has been sitting in the studio since last June, and it's time to either spin it or get rid of it.

I discovered pretty quickly that the advice Paula Simmons gives in her book, The Handspinner's Guide to Selling, is accurate: don't let the picker try to take too big a bite. A big chunk of fleece only jams the picker. As the fleece was still pretty much in bunches of locks, I grabbed handfuls and pulled them apart a little bit to keep entire blocks of fleece from being pulled into the picker. The perfect technique seems to be to let the teeth at the closest edge of the rocker skim over the unpicked fleece, pulling a little bit of the fleece down onto the teeth in the cradle. The rocker then moves the fleece across the teeth of the cradle, and off into a basket. It took a few minutes to get the rhythm down (it's more just "push," rather than "push-pull"), and then dark brown clouds of wool began to fall into the waiting basket. Someone with experience can (supposedly) pick 6 to 10 pounds of fiber an hour; I'm not nearly that fast, but I can at least operate the picker safely and efficiently.

Picking was just the first step. Once the basket was filled, I had to card the fiber. Carding makes a nice break from picking. Too much of one task leads to inattention; inattention leads to disaster! Carding the picked fleece led to the next big discovery--why the drum carder came with clamps. My drum carder--a Strauch's Finest--is big, heavy, and doesn't move very much when I card, especially as I'm pretty gentle. As a result, I never put the clamps on it to clamp it down; it sat on the chest of drawers and everything was copacetic. The clamps sat in their little plastic bag in the drawer of drum carding tools until today. I'm no longer working with little teased open locks, or the bits pulled from my English combs, and it became evident pretty quickly that the fastest, most efficient way to card the picked wool was to turn the crank on the drum carder with one hand, while feeding handfuls of the picked fiber with the other. Great! Then the drum carder began to slide around a bit. Not Great! Everything ground to a halt while I installed the clamps and clamped the drum carder down to the shelf. When I started carding again, the drum carder was rock solid, and I started turning out batts of chocolate brown goodness.

After an entire day of picking, carding, and breaks at the computer, I finished! Where I had a laundry basket full of fleece, I have a storage bin (plus!) of dark brown batts. I need to card them all once again, both to thoroughly blend the color and to remove more of the VM, but it's been a good day's work!

Friday, February 13, 2009

SpinJournal #11: Pickin' N Grinnin'

Having the proper tools makes life so much easier. Yes, it's possible to do nearly everything with fewer tools or lower technology, but it almost always takes longer, and is more frustrating than the same task with modern tools and technology. A cake can be baked in a dutch oven over a wood fire, but isn't it easier to mix it with the KitchenAid and bake it in the self-cleaning oven?

Fiber-related tasks are no different. I discovered this several years ago, when I was using a set of handcards to make rolags for spinning. I new I had to make a lot of them, and I had a lot of fleece, so I put an audiobook on, sat down, and handcarded rolags. Three hours later, I had a basket full of beautiful gray rolags, and no feeling in my hands. I ordered a drum carder the following day.

Two weeks ago, the Guild had their annual "Big Carding Day." We do a lot of demos and public outreach that includes teaching people to spin on a CD spindle, so we need carded fiber for teaching. Everyone that owns a drum carder brings it, and we spend the day carding up lots of donated fleece. I took my big drum carder and a couple bags of fleece to contribute to the effort. The fleece was, quite frankly, not in the best shape. It was scoured by an outside source, and the lock structure is nearly gone, so it's not suitable for combing. I set up my carder and my teasing pad, and produced several pretty nice batts out of this fleece before I finally wore a hole in my thumb from teasing open the locks before throwing them onto the drum carder tray. Obviously, teasing open the locks for 5 laundry bags of fleece wasn't going to be possible. I needed a better way.

A few days after Carding Day, someone on the SpinList posted a link to a beautiful bench picker. I've always resisted the idea of getting a cradle picker, mostly because it's a frightening piece of equipment. Six hundred steel points, all waiting for me to stop paying attention so they can seriously hurt me. But a bench picker is a different animal. I e-mail the link to Stephen, and got a quick reply: Where would you put a bench picker nearly the size of a floor loom? Oh. I hadn't thought of that--the studio is only 120 square feet, and the only way I could fit a picker the size of the loom is to get rid of the loom. So much for a picker.

Suddenly, another message popped up: "Doesn't your guild have a picker you could rent?" Well let me quote Homer and say, "Doh!" I had completely forgotten--the Guild did own a picker that members could borrow. A flurry of e-mails over the next couple of days took care of the arrangements, Stephen picked it up, and the Guild's Triple Picker was sitting in my studio.

On the floor.

Where it couldn't be used.

Fortunately, the picker is a lot smaller than the bench picker, so I just needed to rearrange the studio a little bit. The swift and ball-winder that were under the window moved to my worktable. The drum carder moved from its station at one end of the studio to the shelf under the window. The picker went on top of the chest of drawers, in the spot where the drum carder used to be. Once I switched the position of the table clamp on the picker, and found a big basket for the picked fleece, I was ready to go.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The KnitMeter

In the last few years, as the world has moved further and further into the online world, people have been designing "tools" for the online person. Usually called "widgets," they're tiny programs that run on a desktop or a Website, and do lots of different things: give the temperature, track the Wall Street's ups and downs, or let people know that it's OK to build a fire in the fireplace without getting a whopping-huge fine. Most of them are probably pretty useless--after all, if you want to know the weather, go outside--but occasionally they're rather nifty little tools.

This proliferation of widgets has finally reached the fiber world with the creation of the KnitMeter. A tiny widget designed by Brandon Checketts for his wife to keep track of how much she had knitted, it was released into the world a few weeks ago, and has taken the online fiber community by storm. It's really a pretty simple little tool: you enter your project(s), then enter how much (in feet, yards, or meters) how much you've worked on that project. The KnitMeter keeps a running total of the yarn used, and announces it in a little box that can be put on a Website or on a Ravelry profile page. If you look to the right, you can see my KnitMeter, which I've currently set to announce miles. I've left it the original colors, but if you know HTML color coding, you can manipulate the color of the text and the box. Altogether a very cool widget, and Mr. Checketts is to be commended for creating a tool that caters to those of us who obsess over how much yarn we're burning through.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One Step Forward (Two Steps Back)

Stash reduction is tough, especially if you have a naturally acquisitive nature, and not nearly enough time to use up all the fiber you've acquired. To help get rid of some of the more "unusual" fibers (OK, crap I'll never use in a million years), I joined a group on Ravelry: the Karma Yarn Swap (KYS). The idea is to turn some of your unloved darlings loose out in the world, and things you like will come back in their place.

The idea took a bit of getting used to (about 10 seconds). Basically, people post what they're offering, then if you like it, you claim it, and than have 3 hours to offer something else in its place. Most of the threads in the group are regular trades, but weekends are another story entirely.

While the Ravelry fora are set up for messages, they can be used to do a bastardized version of IM or chat by staying online and frequently hitting the "refresh" button on the browser, or hitting the F5 key. As a result, weekend evenings are time for a KYS specialty: the Kick-Ass trade thread. One person serves as the moderator (a necessity, as there are dozens of posts a minute), and puts up the first item. It goes to the first person that can type "Me" and hit "Send," and that person then has 10 minutes to put up the next item. Meanwhile, everybody is busy chatting. It's fast-paced, nerve-racking, and fun! The items offered are also supposed to be "kick-ass" (really nice), so there's a chance to pick up nice goodies to add to the stash in exchange for less-loved goodies.

So far, I've been able to send away some linen-cotton blend, a wild chenille with bits of Lurex, a skein of my handspun, several skeins of Spinnerin boucle mohair, a couple skeins of Panda Silk, and a gorgeous skein of Jaggerspun Zephyr that I'll never knit (but it's so pretty). It's a good bit of yarn gone, but in return, I've gotten a skein of DK-weight superwash, 2 skeins of alpaca, and I'm waiting on more alpaca, some Filati cotton, and a couple skeins of Southwest Trading Co.'s Karaoke.

So, does improving the stash count as "stash reduction"? Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Marathon" Knitting

A week in, and 2009 is turning out to be an interesting year--I'm learning all sorts of new things, including a lot of words that probably aren't in common usage (and probably shouldn't be).

Firstly, the stash diet. It's...going. I don't know if "well," is really accurate yet. I've gotten two things finished, and gotten a few other things started. On Ravelry (where I spend too much time that I should be spending on fiber), I joined the Burning Up The Stash (BUTS) group, for some support in reducing the giant stash. It's been good for me--I spent two days cataloging a large portion of the stash into my Ravelry stash (the weaving fibers and the raw fleeces aren't cataloged), so I have a good idea of what I have. I also borrowed Stephen's camera (the really good one) and took photos of everything, so nearly everything has at least one identifying photograph in the stash database. It's nice--I can now go "shopping" right in my own closet, and if I really feel the urge to stroke my fiber stash, I can still pull things out of the TARDIS stash closet.

So, what's finished? The first is a cute little tea cosy, based on a pattern published around 1890 in Weldon's Practical Knitter, an English needlework magazine. The pattern is for a "Bachelor's Tea Cosy"; my guess is that the bachelor in question isn't bright enough to take the tea cosy off the pot of tea, as there are openings for the handle and spout. I worked this first one in Patons Classic Wool: Regency for the garter-stitched lining, and Bright Red for the brioche stitch outside. I love the brioche stitch--when each row is done in brioche stitch, it makes a really pretty rib pattern. I may knit a couple more of these very "homely" tea cosies--I think a giant tomato in red and green, and a pumpkin in orange and green would make nice gifts for friends.

The second is yet another pair of mittens, this time out of the leftovers of the Regency yarn I used for the tea cosy. I started this pair last Sunday, when I went to the Asian Art Museum to see the Treasures from the Afghanistan National Museum exhibition, and stayed for the knitting meet-up hosted by Afghans for Afghans. This pair of mittens, along with whatever else I can get knitted for them in the next few months, will eventually go to some child in Afghanistan so they won't have cold hands next winter. I've knitted so many pairs of these mittens I practically have the pattern memorized--I just check to see how many stitches/rows for the size I'm knitting.

I've also cast on my Irish Hiking Scarf, and I'm well up the leg on the second sock of a pair of Opal socks, so I'm keeping my needles busy. I also spent a couple days at my Bond knitter and cranked out a bunch of knitted squares (Good-bye acrylic!) to make a baby blanket for Warm Up America. That was the easy part--the "hard" part is crocheting around each square (a round of single crochets, followed by a round of half-double-crochets), then sewing them all together. However, it ate up all the leftovers that have been kicking around since I finished the Fibonacci stripe afghan several years ago.

The total yardage either consumed or being consumed is now at 2,355 yards. A "marathon" of yarn is 46,145 yards (26 miles, 385 yards), and that's my goal this year. At this point, I'm in my second mile, so I'm doing pretty good.