Friday, 10 May 2019

Spring Flowers and the start of gardening

There is a green haze on the bush lots and many of the trees.   I was beginning to wonder if we'd have leaves by Mother's Day.   We usually do have them, but this year everything seems a bit slow.   We've been getting one reasonably nice day and then day after day of cool, grey, wet weather.  The spring bulbs came out en masse.  Usually it's a lovely progression with first the crocuses, then the Siberian Irises and the Scillia.   This spring they all bloomed at once.  Then the Hyacinths come, and then the daffodils with the tulips finally showing.   Again, these all bloomed at once.    Usually I get several days to sit outside with my tea and enjoy the heavily scented hyacinth blooms, but this year, I got a whiff in passing because it's not been warm enough and the stupidly strong breezes just keep happening.

This year, thanks to our very active squirrels I'm guessing, there are daffodils in the ditch, by the neighbours field and hyacinths in our front flower beds.  Both of which are similar to what I've got in my gardens elsewhere.   I don't really mind that they've done that.  I was considering planting a few daffodils out on the edge of our property anyway and the hyacinths up front aren't a bad thing.  Although I do like to be able to drink my tea outside to their scent.  They are one of my favourite spring bulbs.

I've been playing outside the the garden.   The raised beds have been dry enough to weed a couple of times, so I've been pulling out quack grass and something else with long stringy roots but no growth yet at this time of year.    I need to add some compost and manure, but I found some cell packs of started lettuce plants, so picked up a few and planted them already.  

Earlier this spring, near the end of March, I planted some woad seeds.  This seed is at least 10 years old.  It's germinated well in the past but this year I wasn't so lucky.   I had already over planted, with 3 or 4 seeds in a pot, but it was slow to start and then only a few came up.   I soaked some seed over night and planted that at about 5 per pot, in the same pots as the first ones.   I got enough to come up for use and there may be extras to give away.   The one woad plant that came up last year, is getting ready to flower, so I will have fresh seed.  Yay!

  I'm going to be away for the long weekend, and really can't rely on my menfolk to water my seedlings, although they will do it if they remember.   I figured I could get them to water the garden, so I planted out the woad early.  It's cold hardy and I put it under little plastic cloches from the dollar store.   So far it's holding it's own.   It will be much easier to get the garden plants watered than the little tray of
pots inside the house.

There are now 24 green cones protecting the woad. The large clear cloches has Japanese Indigo.   There are more in a second bed.  This is a bit of a risk as the plant is much less tolerant of the cold.  However, I have enough to replant, as well as some extra for a friend, should the cold weather be too much for the Japanese Indigo.  However, if it survives the next week or two, the plant will have an advantage of a couple of extra weeks growing time, when my garden gets full sunlight.  Hopefully it will make a difference to both seed and indigo production.

I've been spinning and plying Merino - both white and natural grey.  I don't have photos yet.  I will say that the grey has an odd texture that almost feels a little dry, that I'm not sure about, but it's a lovely colour and quite soft.   The white is lovely as well, but it's also obviously more processed thatn the grey. 

Rant -   Mainly, other administrative type things have been taking up my time, which has been a little frustrating.  It always gets a little bit frustrating and then poof, it's done and I get to spend a long weekend with friends, hoping all goes well and unwinding. It's never felt too much though until this year.  This year it's been compounded with not only organizing the classes for the event FOOL, but also with teaching a 3 week spinning class and prepping for a historical cooking class.  The cooking class is a non-issue since it's really just reading cookery books and doing an occasional cooking experiement ahead of time, figuring out a time line and documenting it.  I actually found it the most relaxing in the few days that I devoted to it.  The spinning class was where the pressure was, since the dates were sort of shoved at me.  If I'd really had a choice, I'd have waited until after the long weekend, when I had less on my plate.    But it is what it is and it's done.  Now to figure out where I found all the supplies and get them put away again.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Catching up with projects.

 I was doing a lot of spinning, trying to get yarn made for the hooked rug.   But then I started teaching a 3 week class on Beginner Spinning, so needed to empty my wheels for the last class when we'll be trying to learn the basics of the spinning wheel.   So all my wheels are empty right now.  Now to empty the bobbins.

I also realized I needed to get my 1830's dress remade.  The sleeves were heavy and one of them snagged on something and has a tear in it.   As well, the bodice wasn't all that comfortable.  I had an extra yard of fabric leftover, and I'd found another 2  yards or so on the discount,end of bolt shelf.  I recut the bodice and the sleeves.   The bodice is much better fitting now although the sleeves are okay, I'm going to recut them.  I miscalculated when making them a little less pouffy and ended up making them just a tad too small in the length.  Luckily I have enough fabric to re-do them.  I thought I'd had them cut on the opposite bias but obviously didn't, so I'll also try that one again.

I did a few things right though, like getting the bodice cut just a bit more on the high waist and a better take on the neckline.  I used the skirt from the original dress.  I'd attached it on a waist band so it was simply a matter of unpicking 2 seams and sewing the skirt back on the new bodice.

Phil and Dion were both excited when I pulled out the fabric, pattern and weights.   I had to actually walk away from cutting for a bit, for them to get their enthusiasm and curiosity out of the way before I could make any headway with the project.   I did this project properly, with a full muslin mock up of the bodice and took my time fitting it.  I did all the fiddly bits properly and even sewed on the hook and eye tape by hand to get it perfect.   It all added to the amount of time it took to make the dress, but was well worth it.  I still don't like fitting myself though.

I have 3 of these colourful scarves on the loom right now.    I have lots of the black but I'd like to find a skein or two of some of the other colours in the warp to make brighter, scarves.    There is lots of sparkle in this warp, which looks quite nice when woven up.   This is the scarf I played around with setts to find the best one.   I should just get down and weave them all off, but with the dress making session and FOOL stuff, I just haven't felt the love.  Part of it is that I don't really love making scarves either.   Lots of repetition, short throws of the shuttle and then you get to twist fringes

Some pretty early spring flowers to cheer up the day.  It is another grey day here, damp and cool.   Most of the spring has been damp, grey, cool and windy.  There were a couple of days when it was warm enough to take the banjo outside and play on the deck.   I love doing that.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Starting but not finishing

I've started lots of projects, but not actually finished much lately.

I am working on an 1830's dress block.  It's started, but I'm still working on fitting it.   I am quite slow to actually fit clothing for myself.  I find it fussy and difficult.  It's so much easier to fit someone else!  I don't have anyone local who can help me with this, so it's a solitary task which I have to work to keep it in focus.

I've been spinning. I realized I hadn't been spinning on the Kromski Sonata in ages, so I pulled it out of it's storage bag and set it up.   I'll have to admit that my Minstrel is what I consider my workhorse spinning wheel.  It does everything I ask of it and is super easy to work with.  However, it isn't very portable. I like to keep up with the Sonata as it's my demo wheel and I like demos to go smoothly and effortlessly.  Practice is the only way that happens.

Usually these days I keep a cotton project on the Sonata because few people ever demo cotton, but that came off and I put on some white Ramie.   I got half done it and realized I was about to do a demo and since it was a local gig based on "pioneer" days, I figured that wool was a better choice.  Off came the bobbin of ramie and on the new bobbin, I started spinning some lovely, super soft Merino.   I got home and a couple of days later I was playing with fibres for traditional rug hooking.  I spun up some of that gifted unknown but strong fibres looking for the right grist.   The bottom bobbin is plied, but I'm still not happy with it, even though it's lovely, evenly spun yarn.  It won't work for what I want to use it for.

I've been working on Pysanky for Easter and for a demo and Westfield on Good Friday this year.   I tried a few new things like using one of my green eggs when I was out of white ones.   My daughter liked it, but to me it threw the colours off.   I also tried painting small spaces with a brush rather than a whole dip.  This worked well, but on my sample, it showed as black, which won't work with a black background.  I also found out that without my task light, I leave too many little uncovered spots when waxing over a large area.  Right now my task light is on some woad plants I've started early.

 I took an introductory class in Traditional Rug Hooking.   I enjoyed it immensely and realized it would be a great addition to my demo skills for Westfield.   I had a bunch of ideas for rug patterns, but ended up doing a slightly more modern one which I decided wouldn't over reach my very beginner skills.  I'm using handspun yarn instead of wool strips because I have lots of yarn and very little wool fabric.  Since we are finishing the roof this summer, putting in the rest of the raised beds, adding new gravel to the driveway and I'm really hoping to take a real holiday for a few days, I decided against purchasing commercial wools from the Hooking shops, due to cost.   I'm pretty sure that I have handspun yarn samples that are close to the right grist that I can use up.

The yarns are generally white or grey though, so I've been dyeing them up.   I've been using up some Procion MX dyes, using them as acid dyes and I've found they are a little bit more difficult to get good varigated colours with on wools.  I do love the bright colours though.  I have more dyeing to do before I'll have enough yarn and colours.  

I've got some scarves on the loom.   They are long and sparkly.  I am playing with sett though as the first one looked nice but was a bit firm.  I dropped it down 2 threads per inch and it was obviously too loose.  So I re-sleyed again and am hoping that third time is lucky and I've got it right.

Added to this is all the pre-event planning which happens before a weekend long SCA camping event.   We've had a few lovely days, sandwiched in between cold, rainy, dreary weather.   Oh, I'd like the sun and warmth back please!

Got scraps of wool fabric too small for hoods or trim?  I'll take them!

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Checked Double Weave Wool Blanket

The checked double weave blanket is off the loom.  All I did after cutting it off was to do a quick zigzag stitch on both ends to keep the blanket from fraying before it was finished.   I had entertained the thought of twisting fringes, but when I cut it off, I managed to cut off the fringe allowance on the front.   I actually don't really like blankets with fringes on the ends.  They look spectacular for sure.  However functionality is suspect.  Fringes get in the way.  They tickle your face and nose.  The cause much too much excitement for the cats, who think they are built in toys.   They dangle into your tea when you least expect it and drag on the ground when you wrap yourself in the blanket.

 I thought the fringes would look nice.  I'm really glad I don't have fringes.   I cut this off the loom on Sunday.  I let it sit and relax until Monday afternoon when I started looking for and fixing skipped threads.  I finished those and hemmed it while visiting with my daughter.    I tossed it in the washer last night for a partial fulling.   Today I cut off all the thousands of ends.   I had tons of bobbin changes.  Not only did I need to switch bobbins  and shuttles for each colour change,but with doing the 60ish inches wide, a single bobbin only did about 16-20 rows.   There a lot of bobbin changes.

I almost took a photo of the ginormous pile of ends and bits I'd cut off.  But then I thought of a bunch of cooking blogs I'd visited which have photos of the ingredients, photos of the empty bowl and spoon, photos of the addition of each ingredient, each step, and then 12 photos of the finished product, from various angles and with different crispness in focus etc.   It's like you can't just jot down the recipe and a series of steps anymore.  Instead you need to tell everyone that your second cousin twice removed's stepmothers sister, loves the recipe so much she framed it for posterity, with 47 photos of the production of the recipe because we all have so much spare time these days that we can spend 10 minutes scrolling down to find the recipe is hidden behind a link button.   ARGh..

 Really, I don't care and didn't think anyone else would care about a pile of short cut bits of yarn either.   I did notice I missed 3 ends on one side which needed to be stitched in, which I did and while doing that I found 2 other skipped threads that I'd missed.  When I went back to fix them, I couldn't find them at all.   After hanging a load of laundry on the line, I came back to toss the blanket in the washer for a second fulling, but had to wait as our very old cat had poked around to move it so he could have a nap on it.  Eventually he moved and I got the blanket in for a second wash.  This was a short wash, on warm wash/cold rinse, so there was a bit more fulling action.   It's not as thick as the last blanket, but it's not flimsy and airy either.   It has a nice weight and isn't going to stretch or wear badly.    And.... my hubby decided that he "really liked it".    Now I think this means I need to make another blanket.   It won't be checks though as that is just too much work.

Specs -
  It was 63" wide by 113" long right off the loom.  This was my 36 in Fanny so I'm pretty happy about that.

After the hemming and the first fulling, it was 58 " x 103 "

Final size after second fulling -  52" x 95"

Monday, 18 March 2019

Our Maple syrup process

We use plastic sap buckets to collect maple sap.  The lids keep out rain and much debris.  They were what was available locally which was the major factor in our decision to use them.  Before the plastic was available, metal buckets were used.  You can still get them some places, or find them used.  Very large and sturdy plastic bag containers are made for this purpose as well.  You can also run a hose from the spile (the spout in the tree) into a bucket, and collect sap that way.   Commercial producers often run a hose from tree to tree, and collect it in large drums at the end of each line.   Things get high tech from there with commercial vacuum systems of various types.   It also seems that each container holds a different volume and every shop seems to have a different selection of equipment available.   We choose what we could not only find, but knew would work for our very small operation.

We made an evaporator over our fire pit using an old Franklin stove we found in the basement.   We use rectangular roasting pans and a 2 pan format.  We use one pan for boiling and the second pan to pre-heat sap, so it doesn't cool down the boil pan when used to top up.

It takes about 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup. That also depends on the type of Maple tree you are tapping and the year as both are variables on what that year's sap to syrup ratio will be.   This weekend was our first boil.  We had about 120 litres of sap and got just under 3 litres of syrup. 

I finish the syrup in the house.  The final temperature needs to be about 219F- 220F.   While it can take time to get close, I find that last few degrees often come to temperature quickly.  Once it does, I pour the syrup through a paper or fibre syrup filter.  I then reheat the syrup for a few minutes, and pour it into prepared, hot, sterilized jars.   I wipe the jar rims and pop on 2 piece lids.   Some people run their syrup through a hot water canning bath, but none of the Agriculture departments say this is necessary.   Maple syrup has about a 60 percent sugar content so not much will grow in that environment.  
Because of the length of time it takes to reduce the sap, we get a lot of caramelization.  This really means that we don't get that very pale light syrup that commercial producers can get.    What we do get though has a really good, strong Maple flavour.    YUM!

 I'm off to make pancakes :)

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Doubleweave and signs of spring

 This warp was threaded pretty easily.  I'm not sure why, but I designed the stripe based on the finished width of the fabric in inches, and didn't take the thread count into consideration.   IN order to make it work, I had to add a few threads, so it's wider than I had planned, which isn't a bad thing for a blanket.
It's slow weaving though.   I much prefer the Finnish Toika temple.   I think it is easier to use.   The little spiky points at the end are easier to set into the fabric and it's thinner so you can see the fabric while you're weaving.  I'm having to be very careful because the spikes often miss the second layer and the width hides skipped threads until I am almost a whole block up.  Because it's double weave, it takes 4 shots of the shuttle to show 2 shots on the top layer, so it's double the unweaving to correct a mistake..   Egads!  Sometimes it seems like it has been 2 steps forward and 2 steps back.
The sap is running and buckets are up!  Yay!  That is a sure sign that spring is on the way.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

More Double Weave.

 I'm making another double weave blanket.  Not only did I really enjoy making the last one, but I decided I want to learn more about double weave.   Working on making double wide fabric competently is my next step.   Another blanket is the project because a) I have the materials on hand and b) I've hardly gotten to use the blanket I just made.   It seems it is currently a favourite cuddle spot.

I'm sure that once the latest stupid cold weather passes, the cats' interest will also pass, but then I won't need it either!
Dion uses the blnaket the most.  I find him on it at least once a day, usually more often.

Mu, or Cat as we call him because for a long time he was our only cat, also loves this blanket.  He's old though, about 16 and too skinny, so it probably keeps him warm.
Dion again.   One day I found 3 cats curled up on this blanket.  It is certifiably kitty approved.

 The new blanket is planned to be 26 in wide on the loom.  It is 2 colours, with 2 in. alternating blocks in a checky pattern.   If I'm going to learn about the weave structure, I thought it was good to do a pattern requiring  a little more effort than the first one.     The yarn is wool I had on hand, purchased for another project which never made it up in the project queue.  I'm using the same threading as last time, although I didn't tie this project on as it's planned to be wider than the first blanket.