Monday, 30 August 2010

Romney Fleece revisited..

The Moorit coloured Romney/Icelandic cross fleece came with a tag warning that it had a tippy britch. Other than the britch must be mighty big on this beast, the fleece is really nice and very pretty. The shades of greys and browns meld perfectly and despite the pulling off of tips on half of the locks, it's processing up beautifully. The batts take only 2 passes through the drum carder, although they do need to be run through slowly, there are no neps or noils. The light, fluffy batts strip easily into rovings which I've wound into balls or bumps for spinning.

It spins so easily that the only real issue I've been having is not letting it get too thin. My goal has been to spin up 2 batts a day, although I fear that might not be a realistic goals. I've kept pretty much to it, but it does mean that I'm spending several hours a day at the spinning wheel. I've got 3 bobbins spun and wound into skeins. One is still on the niddy noddy drying. Now my big question is, do I really want to work with my original idea and use that as weft for a commercial warp, or do I want to try to spin the warp up as well? I have a bit of research to do before I commit to one or the other and until then, I'll card up a few more batts and spin another bobbin. I'm making headway on yardage if I only need it for the weft as my orignal plan calls for 1800 yds of weft and I've got 11oo spun already. The warp though, if I spin it, requires 3100 yds, presuming that I've kept the sett the same. If not, it's another story and another few bobbins full.

Look what came in the mail! A little cardboard shipping carton which actually fit into our mailbox. In it were some new dye stuffs that I've never had a chance to use before and some Thiox so I can use up the Dyer's Knotweed that's growing well right now. The Lac is another bug red. I have some "real" lac, but this is pre-ground so I can do a comparison of the two. The Black Oak is supposed to give a gorgeous, strong and fade resistant yellow as is the Fustic. The Coreopsis is because I saw a sample of this dye recently and it was a fabulous orange. Since my Coreopsis gave me only a few flowers, not enough to harvest, I ordered the dye. The Madder is there because I've got a bit of pre-ground root left and a small bucket of that which I grew in the previous garden left but not much else. Better to have it around than not. Of course this means I need some white yarn to play with... after I spin up enough of the moorit I think :)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Getting things done...

My friend Suzi's husband is a talented woodworker. He's made many of her fibre tools, including a warping reel which is absolutely gorgeous. I asked him if he could make me a small rigid heddle so that I could use it on the Oseberg loom. I'd read someplace that some archaeologists were considering the possibilities that the Oseberg tablet weaving loom was actually used with a rigid heddle. I wanted to try that premise to see if it was at all probable.
What he made me was an absolutely gorgeous little rigid heddle made of birdseye maple. It's so nicely finished, it feels like silk - very pet-able. I've got a narrow band warped up on the loom, and now it's up to me to figure out how it might have been done.

Besides harvesting, tomatoes ( hit by blight, I hope they ripen before I lose all the plants!), pumpkins, beans and zuchinni, I've been spinning. I hand carded up a basket full of rolags using the Dyer's Knotweed dyed fibre. So far there is one bobbin almost full. I'm going to hold off on the rest of this though. First I am not sure I like this fibre all that much. I've no idea what it is...but it's a tad scratchy and a little short. Very good for a long draw but, eh... not intriguing me enough to finish the fibre right now.

However......... a few of my friends, all reenactors and all weavers have challenged each other to make hand woven hoods. We've deadlines for winding the warp, dressing the looms and for finished yardage to be off the looms for show and tell. This is exciting! First I need to find my meagre stash which has been either not unpacked yet or unpacked and then repacked when my sweetie needed to check out the room they were in. Then I need to see if I have enough yardage. I'll need someplace around 5000 - 6000 yards for this, presuming I can do as fine a fabric as I'd like. The problem is of course, that purchasing this quality of wool yarn is a tad pricey. I may opt for spinning part of it. I would repurpose that Romney cross fleece. It was going to be a cloak, but hoods are as good a project and the colour is lovely.

Yesterday I carded up a bunch of locks on the drum carder and it is the way to process this one. It did take forever though because about half of the locks have a break at the weathered tips. This means that each lock needs to have the tip tugged. Half of them break off cleanly and the rest are strong enough to process. It's a pain but look how pretty these are! I need to empty that blue bobbin and spin these batts up!

The waiting room socks are done. I had to force myself to finish them. They felt so heavy and it was pure drudgery to knit that last 1/2 sock, mainly because I think I associated them with the stress of waiting rooms and because the pattern is a straight 3 x 1 ribbing, which was worse that a stockinette stitch to knit. I didn't enjoy knitting that much ribbing! However, they are done.. washed and worn and are nice enough. They will be appreciated this winter

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Colours of August

Time once again for the Colours of August. Check out Sue's blog for more colour from around the world.
Buffalo as seen from across the Niagara River, from Fort Erie. It was a hot, hazy day which started out somewhat cloudy. It hadn't quite cleared yet. Still, the water is an amazing blue and the city looks quite pretty from here.


The Horseshoe falls on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. I don't really like the touristy trappishness of the town, but the Falls on both sides of the border are awe inspiring. The water roars by. The mist sprays far further than one would expect. The shear volume of water pounding on those rocks is incredible. It is a sight which always takes my breath away.


The American Falls. On our side, we get a good view of both. I liked this one in particular because of the rainbow. It sort of makes that thundering, awe inspiring water feel a tad more gentle.On the home front, I found these beauties hidden away in the tomato plants. There are now a bunch of them ripening. A sun warmed, freshly picked tomato tastes of summer like no hard, tasteless, winter tomato can.

Goldenrod. It's blooming. It's pretty. It's also a sad harbinger of autumn. We've only a few weeks left of summery weather, before our nights start getting cold and we will have our first frost.

This is supposed to be a sign of Autumn, but they are ripening already. These are Sugar Sweet Pie pumpkins. Supposedly weighing in at less than 5 lbs, one harvested already must be 10 lbs or close too it. Three are already harvested, 2 curing and one with from a damaged vine, sitting on the deck to hopefully ripen fully. There are at least 6 more in various stages of ripening. If they all survive, that will be an awful lot of pumpkin! Good thing it freezes well and my guys really like pumpkin pie!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Old Fort Erie


This year we had to miss our normal holiday at Pennsic War. We were both pretty sad about that as we camp with a great group of people who are lots of fun and the camp is full of pretty awesome music. While stuck here at home, we managed to sneak off to visit Old Fort Erie. This is the 4th incarnation of the fort. The first was built in 1764, of wood, on the Niagara River. The ice breaking up in the winter was hard on the fort and sometime later a second was built in the same place. In 1803, work started on the third fort built a bit up from the river and this time of stone. It lasted only a few years as during the war of 1812, it came under siege and in 1814, the flintstone fort was destroyed by the American army. It was occupied by the British army until 1823. In the 1930's, it was rebuilt as a make work project and is now an interesting attraction. The interpreters are knowledgeable and available for tours and questions.

One of the cannons looking out on to the Niagara River. This one had a range of 1-2 miles!
Looking down the stone building which housed the officers barracks, the officers mess and the regular barracks. They sure weren't very big considering the number of soldiers which were housed here.This is the officers barracks. The interpreter said there would have been 4 or 5 beds in total as there was one commanding officer for every 100 soldiers. This bed is an original travelling bed which belonged to Captain Kingsley, supposedly from the 1700's. It is said his ghost haunts the room who likes to ruffle ladies hair and sometimes shows up in photos. We didn't see him nor did he grace our photos!

I did like the kitchen! It has a wonderful stone floor and a great fireplace. It is a good thing there were decent sized windows or this would have been a very gloomy room. While it isn't in the photo, just to the left of the fireplace is a second brick installation with a large iron bowl mounted over a firebox, which was used to heat water. Interestingly, there isn't a bread oven here. The kitchen was solely for the officers food. The 400-500 soldiers had to make do with cooking their meals over a firepit. This was for safety reasons, to keep them from burning down the barracks. I'd love a kitchen that was like this, if of course it had a more modern bit of design hidden away, including a dishwasher. Lemonade and shortbread cookies made in the fireplace that morning were served here.


Of course there were arms displays. We saw them shoot off their muskets after a lovely explanation of how inaccurate they were and how the amount of smoke meant that the red coats didn't really cause a problem since nobody could see anything anyway. Later in the day, they shot a small, portable mortar. It is small enough to be moved by 2 people and fits in a canoe.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Dyer's Knotweed

Dyer's Knotweed or Polygonum Tinctorium is one of the few dye plants that give blue dye. It has a longstanding historical use in Japan as their source of blue dye. It is an interesting plant with segmented stems, apparently part of the Buckwheat family. It is a long season annual, which unfortunately blooms when the light levels drop, which of course makes it well into autumn here with frosts, which it doesn't tolerate. I've grown it several times and had blooms but no seed. It is not as strong as true Indigo ( indigo suffruticosa) but stronger than Woad ( istatis tinctoria), however it grows well in our climate, despite the issue with harvesting seed.

Yesterday I harvested 532 grams of Dyer's Knotweed leaves. All but one of my glass dyeing jars were playing hide and seek yesterday so I used my smallest dye pot to contain them. In order to cook them down, you need to cover them in hot water and then use a bain marie or double boiler system to cook them down. I've done this in as little as 2 hours at 160 F , as per Buchanan's A Dyer's Garden, but a lower temperature over a longer period of time works just as well. Yesterday the water was kept at about 100F for 4 hours and then up to 160 for an hour and there was plenty of colour in my dye pot.
After removing the pot from the double boiler, I strained the liquor into a pail and squeezed the remaining liquid from the leaves. The little pot was crammed full of fresh leaves to start and these few little squished leaf balls were all that was left after straining and squeezing!
I added baking soda to bring up the alkalinity of the liquid to PH 9. Yes, I used litmus paper to test to make sure as it does make a difference in the final results. I used my little stick blender, reserved for crafty stuff only, to aerate it. Every thing I've read suggests that Dyer's Knotweed should foam up the way that Woad does, but I've never had that happen. Instead, the water changes from murkey brown blue to a green blue with a little bit of scum on the top when you let it sit.
Then you add a bit of Spectralite or Thiox. I used Rit colour remover as that is what I had handy and it works like Spectralite does. Half an hour later, it was a yellowy green and ready to go. I did this outside yesterday and it was quite cool, so the vat did lose viability more quickly than normal. However this was a small price to pay for a lovely late afternoon/ evening outside as there was a nice breeze, no mosquitoes and a break from the heat and humidity. I ended up dyeing masses of fleece and rovings as I'd forgotten that all important bit of needing stuff to dye! I'll weigh it when it is dry as I just kept grabbing wads of it until the vat started losing colour. :)

Thursday, 5 August 2010

In a little bit of jam

Last week was a bit overkill on the fruit when visiting the market. I ended up with blueberries, apricots and some peaches amongst other things. I knew I had to do something with the goodies I had and we were out of the jam I'd made last year. It seemed like a good idea to stock up for the winter. Blueberry jam is always yummy and this was my first time making apricot jam. It is really delicious however I wasn't happy that half the basket of apricots was green and then rotted before they ripened, so there is only one batch of it. The final batch was blueberry-peach. It seems every year we get a different selection of jams.

I was visiting my friend Suzi. After stuffing me full of freshly baked cinnamon buns (she's an awesome baker), we headed to her studio to see the new rug she was weaving - very cool by the way and to mark the hem of my new dress. After a wander around her property to identify useful dye plants, we ended up at her herb garden where the Oregano was growing profusely. She sent me home with a big bag full, which is awesome as I won't have enough this year to dry.

Leslie went to Newfoundland this summer and brought me back a pressie! It's a pound of Newfoundland Sheep Wool! The staple length of this is amazing. It's a double coated fleece. I pulled the long hairs out of a lock to check it out and they separated easily, leaving a lovely, even long staple and a much softer and shorter inner coat. I don't know what I'm going to do with this bounty, but it will be lots of fun.

The Newfoundland sheep is being studied right now to find it's genetic origins. It is thought that some of the sheep may have come with settlers 500 years ago. Because they are supposed to look like and have survival traits of the Border Cheviot, it is presumed that they were bred or based on that breed, with the addition of a variety of other breed genetics over the years. There are however people who believe that the breed is based on Icelandic or Black Welsh Mountain sheep. The double coat is interesting as it is not that commonly found in a lot of breeds.

So has anyone else dealt with an interesting double fleece like this? Any suggestions on how best to deal with it? I don't want to waste an ounce!