Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Weaving, weaving and weaving

 The Master Spinner 2 course homework is all boxed up and ready to send off.  I just have to actually get to town to do so.  I was putting away the spinning supplies, equipment and a few small leftovers from the 2 course.  In doing so, I found several un-hemmed tea towels from ages ago.  Deciding not to let these tea towels seccumb to that sad fate,  I put together a few sewing supplies, ironed the hems of the Log Cabin tea towels and dragged them around with me to meetings.  I got so much done that way that I only had a few hems left to do at home.  All six tea towels are hemmed and totally finished.  Two have been added to the household inventory.  Two are for gifts and the final two are waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. 

A friend asked me if I could photograph some weave structure samples for him as visual aids for a talk he's giving in April.  Of all the samples I have, I didn't have the two he particularly needed, so I'm weaving them up quickly.  This is a 3/1 twill.  I was told I couldn't do it on a counterbalance loom, but it is working just fine.   I think though I'll try to borrow a table loom for the double weave samples.   My first thought was to just add a second warp to this project, rewinding it to tie it on the back and then rethreading both the heddles and reed.  However the sheds were pretty small with the 3/1 twill sample and I'll need that same tie up for double weave.  A jack loom might be easier to do this one and a table loom would have much less loom waste and I wouldn't need to dig up as much waste yarn for the project.  That does however put the sample weaving on hold until I can actually get hold of a table loom.

Pretty colours of wool from a remnant sale at a nearby carpet manufacturer. Only a few people can go at a time for any given appointment.  I lucked into a last minute available spot because the group split into two.   My friend wanted me to pick her up some but after being told there were 1000's of colours, I felt uneasy about it.   I have enough of a time choosing my own when presented with a wide colour array and this was so last minute that I didn't have time to get colour swatches from her.  I was told that was the only way one could get someone else to shop for them.  After seeing the gazillion shades they have available, I can believe it!   The bottom row of cones are all wool/silk blends.  I've no idea what the percentage is of each but it soft and silky..   The rest are 100% wool.  It's a little coarser than I normally use but should make lovely, bright blankets and maybe even some yardage for a jacket.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Old Man Winter is Losing!

Last night I sold one of my spinning wheels.  It was a happy-sad moment.  I'm totally thrilled that she has gone to a good home where she will be used and loved.  I'm sad because she was my first wheel and I learned a lot about spinning on her, as well as spun a lot of yardage.  She was a little workhorse of a wheel, but I couldn't really justify her sitting in a corner unused.  Now she will happily be the centre of attention again.

We've had a couple of very mild days, with melting going on.   I love this time of year, with the surprise hint of spring yet to come.   The dirty, melting snows emphasize that Old Man Winter's icy grip on the world is slowly weakening.   They are one of the first signs that spring is on it's way.    I love the sight of the melting snow piles and the first glimpse of the ground hiding underneath.

The driveway is a mess of ice and gravel, but it is no longer heavily packed snow.  The path we've been clearing to the chicken coop
is almost clear of snow.  It's smooshy though, as the ground is still frozen so the thawing water and little top layer of muck have no place to drain.  Despite the squidgy ground, it's a good thing  and a beautiful sight.

Look at that sky!   After months of cloud cover and the very occasional water blue winter sky, there is a gorgeous, true blue sky.  How nice is that?   On a day like this, the bird songs burst forth from the quiet of the dead of winter survival mode.  The buds on the trees are starting to swell.  It will be months yet before we have leaves, but it's a sign of things to come.Today when I was running errands I saw a man wearing shorts.   I saw a girl outside walking home wearing a t-shirt.  I was outside taking photos with just a sweater on.  It's 8 C (46F) but that sunshine warms it up beautifully. 

  The dog and I were outside trying to take photos.  Well, I was taking photos while he was dozing in the sun.  I don't think he was all that enthused about my calling him to get his attention.  Mainly he sat with the sun on his back and his eyes closed, just relaxing in the sunshine!

We still have snow though.   They are calling for more this week and for the temperatures to drop back down to normal, but today people were smiling for seemingly no reason.  I think it was the sunshine!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Way Outside My Comfort Zone

I like wool yarn, smooth, soft and bouncy, woollen, worsted, a little unevenly spun, it doesn't matter, as long as it's wool.  I like to spin wool, I like to knit with wool and I like to weave with wool.  I'll use wool/nylon blends for socks and I don't mind using commercial cotton for tea towels and such..  While I like soft, cushy wools, I also like medium and some coarser wools.  I'm not horribly biased when it comes to sheep fibres.   I'm pretty sure it's a very tactile thing.  

Silk noils for instance, just feel wrong.  They are dry, feel coarse and harsh to my hands.  I made a dress once, from silk noil that I could only wear with a full underslip.  Luckily it was an Italian Ren, style so I needed to wear a full camecia, which masked the feel of the noil.  I made a generic Saxonish style tunic from it as well, which was never worn due to the icky feel factor. 

So, I decided to work way outside my comfort zone and do some practice blending, making enough yarn to actually do a project with.   I didn't even decide to weave with it because I felt that would be cheating a little bit, so I planned a pair of mittens..   I had to push through the project.  The carding was probably the best part of the deal because though it took a long time, it was fairly mindless. I used a blend of Llama, Coromo and Silk Noils.   I watched an awful lot of Star Trek TNG videos ( thank you Santa) while carding.  The spinning was okay except that the fibre kept hanging up on the noils and drafting was a bit of a pain.   The knitting of the mitts though was horrendous.  My hands felt not only cramped and sore the whole time, but it was as if the noils sanded down my hands and dried them out so much so that I needed to use hand cream every few rows.  However, after way more hours of knitting that I expected - mittens are a fast project right?  These ones took me nearly 30 hours to knit.. egad..
They are nubbly, spotty and don't feel like soft, springy wool.  They are almost done.. except for the thumbs.  The thumbs can wait until I can deal with having to knit with the noils again.  Why is there such a huge difference between silk noils and say reeled silk, silk rovings or hankies which can be a joy to work with?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Winter Sowing

Last year I experimented with the winter sowing method of germinating seeds.   I had prepared 2 trays and one bottle for winter sowing.  The trays were unsuitable and nothing germinated, but the bottle did quite well.  In it was some Elecampane seeds.  Only a few seeds to try and I got seedlings which grew large enough, despite my ignoring them, to plant in the garden.    I'm pretty sure the trays I used dried out too quickly, so I'm trying the method again, this time only using appropriate containers.

  I didn't start collecting the containers early enough.  My seed containers should be outside already.  Instead I had to buy a bunch of 2 litre bottles of pop and tell my boys they had to drink it!  I don't drink pop much, preferring water or herbal tea, so I feel a little badly, but I don't think they minded too much.    After washing out the bottles, this is what I did.

I cut the pop bottle in half and discarded the cap.  In essence, this method relies on making mini green houses.  It will get warm in there, so ventilation is needed.  With a bottle like this, you just take the cap off.  Otherwise, you need to cut ventilation holes in the lid.  You also need to cut some drainage holes in the bottom.  I put in 3 or 4 in the bottom of each bottle.

I also cut some slits around the top of the bottom half of the bottle.  They are about 2 inches deep.  I took a little wedge out of one as well.  This is just to help the top slide on more easily.  I found it buckled otherwise.  It left a gap, which I worried would let moisture escape too quickly. 

I filled the bottom of the bottle with about 3 inches of planting soil.  Everything I've read suggests that 3 inches depth of soil is ideal.  My trays only had 1 inch of soil, so that was likely a problem as well.   I soaked the soil and let it drain - remember those drainage holes?  They're important.  Then I sprinkled seed all over the top and put just a tiny bit of soil over them to cover.   Rule of thumb here tends to be cover with as much soil depth as the seeds are large.  These are Red Yarrow seeds and not very big at all.

Then I slid the top of the bottle, over the bottom half.  I used packing tape this year.  Last year I used duct tape, but I can't figure out where I put the roll of it.  I'm hoping the packing tape will hold up to the moisture.   I also wrote a label in both marker and pencil.  Marker is easier to see but can often fade out with sunshine.  The pencil on the other hand is harder to see, but won't fade.  It may be overkill, but I'd rather not have to try to remember what is in which bottle in May.   I taped over the whole label to help waterproof it and taped it to the bottom of the bottle, below the soil line.

I then took the bottles outside and plunked them in the snow, in an area where I can keep an eye on them.  They should get some sunshine, but being in full sunshine can dry them out.  The seeds and soil will freeze.  As the days get milder, the soil in the bottle will warm up during the day and  freeze again at night, causing the seed coatings and casing to wear.  When the time is right, the seeds should germinate.   As the days grow warmer, you do need to keep an eye on them to make sure there is still moisture in the bottles.  There should be condensation on the inside of the bottle when it's warmer.  If not, add a bit of water.   Using a bottle without a cap not only allows excess heat to escape but allows a bit of moisture in when it snows or rains.

These bottles have Red Yarrow and Icelandic Poppies in them.  I want to try some other perennials plants as well, including Gaillardia, Aster, Rudbekia Goldsturm, Golden Marguerite and Phlox.  I may try some Woad, Weld and the Osage Orange, depending on how many bottles I can find to use.  

I can see this being a great method for perennial seeds.  Despite some websites saying annuals will work with this method and suggest it for beans, tomatoes and other warm weather seeds, I don't think I'd try them.  Bean seeds won't germinate if the soil is too cold.  Tomatoes need a longer season than we actually have here if directly planted, so starting them inside, 8 weeks early, is a good way to ensure they have the chance to fully set and ripen fruit before we get frost.  I might  try spinach, lettuce or arugula if I thought the ground would be ready for transplanting early enough.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Colour Experiments

Hardened Coreopsis Extract
I've been waffling about with wondering should I or shouldn't I dye the yarns for one of the Master Spinner 2 homework projects.  Finally on Friday night, I just hunkered down and started.  I was tired and when I opened the little jar of Coreopsis extract, it was a hard puck which wouldn't loosen from it's container.   After a few minutes of frustration, I tossed it back in the box and pulled out the Black Oak bark.  I was totally unscientific about this.  I'd already been soaking the fibres, so had no idea of the weight.  I tossed in a couple of teaspoons of the ground bark and started it simmering.   A bit later I tossed in some spun yarn and a hand full of wet fibre to find this gorgeous bright, clear yellow quickly take.

Extract Ground in coffee grinder
On Saturday morning, realized that I had a screwdriver and a mallet handy from assembling the little Mazurka.  It took two taps with the mallet on the screwdriver and the Coreopsis extract broke into hunks.  I'd noticed an electrical cord sticking out of a box and realized it was my coffee grinder.  I have mainly used it for pulverising Cochineal but I figured it would work well for the extract.  It took more than a couple of pulses but it was ground enough to use.  I added a scant teaspoon to the water and it turned orangy however the fibre was very pale, even after an hour of simmering.  I added a second teaspoon of Coreopsis extract but the colour only got slightly darker. 

Next I tried some Fustic.  It gave a pretty and warm yellow but now I had three colours with very little contrast, which really wasn't going to work for me.  I set it aside to dry while I pulled out the ground Lac.  Lac is another bug dye, though not the bug itself but some sort of residue it leaves behind.. Bug Poo?  Anyway, it is supposed to give nice reds and purples if you make the PH alkaline.  I'm pretty sure this is the first time that our iron heavy water affected my dyeing because no matter how I shifted the PH, I got purple or purpler.  Pretty colour but not what I was going for.  They are very pretty and springlike colours though.  Such a nice contrast to the white wonderland outside. ( 6-8 inches more heavy snow yesterday)

This morning I remembered I have bags of Marigolds in the freezer.  I used half a bag and overdyed the Fustic.  Then I tossed in a pinch of iron and another skein to get a greenish colour.  I have enough colours now to do the needlework project for the course and have it look nice.

This is some brown Shetland spun on the Mazurka.  I'm very happy with how it turned out.  I'm waffling about what to make with this.  There is enough there for a warp for a scarf but it would also make a nice knitted toque.  I finished my son's mittens and nobody else needs any right now so mittens are out of the equation though it would be good mitten yarn too.  Anyway, it's too nice of a yarn to leave packed away someplace waiting for inspiration.  I guess my son could use a toque since it certainly doesn't really seem that winter is waning yet

Funny- my sweetie had to take the snow blower out to clear part of the driveway because he needed to get the truck out to go to town to get gas for the snow blower..worried that he didn't have enough gas to finish it.  With the mountain of snow left by the snowplow at the end of the driveway, even the truck wouldn't have gotten through it.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Weaving and Garden Dreaming.

The log cabin tea towels are off the loom.  There are 5 towels plus a 6th which isn't quite as long, being my loom waste.  I wove until my bobbins were empty and my shed was getting a little to tight for comfort.  The last few inches of the final towel were woven all in one colour as the second bobbin was empty.  Wow!  It was definitely twice as fast or more to weave with only one shuttle, rather than having to switch between each shot. The true test of the final project and it's success or not, will be after wet finishing.  Then I'll get to see how the fabric really feels.

The first see order is in.  This one is mainly dye plants and a few herbs.  There are two types of Indigo there.  One is Indigofera tinctoria.  That's true indigo and a long season plant.  I'm pretty sure it's rated to a zone 8 or so and totally unsuited to my area.  However I'll start the plants early.  I may keep them in large pots so I can grow them in the greenhouse and if I have to, bring them inside as the days grow shorter and cooler, to mature.  I'm hoping I can get some leaves to try out.   I'm going to have to think carefully about my dye plant garden.  I had great plans but realized it would mean I'd be growing 5 different types of blue indigotin bearing plants.  That could be a lot of blue fibre!   Plus I've plans for another 1/2 dozen plants to get started as well.    This means I either have to dig up the perennial beds and repurpose them to dye gardens, or put in some raised beds in another part of the yard.  The raised beds would be my first choice, but I'm not sure the rest of the family would agree with my preferred location, which is quite near the front of the house.   They have always seemed to have a problem with me turning the front yard of houses into garden space.

We had a huge storm blow through, although areas around us seem to have been hardest hit.  The snow has mainly stopped and the snow plough has finally passed by.   This time you can see the road whereas the last two passes seemed to be fairly futile attempts at road clearing.  It's Ground Hog's day and Wiarton Willie did not see his shadow, prognosticating an early spring.  Plus it's our anniversary and we'll be celebrating by digging out the bbq and grilling steaks for dinner.  Many years ago, we were snowed in and this was the most special thing we could think of doing while unable to go anywhere.  My son dug a pathway through over 4 feet of snow to get to the bbq.   It was so much fun that we forgo fancy restaurants and celebrations, for a simple bbq steak dinner, on what is often a cold and blustery evening.  

A taste of spring!  Last year I purchased several pots of forced hyacinths and most of them survived over the summer, leaving good sturdy bulbs for fall planting.  I guess this spring I'll see if they are a winter hardy variety or not.  Out of two stores, this was the only bulb which wasn't white.  I love the scent of hyacinths!