Monday, 29 October 2012

Rainy Day Activities..

It was a weirdly busy week.  It feels like we're having the second solid week of rain.  In the short time it wasn't raining, I got most of the garlic planted.  I say most as last minute, I decided to plant a 5th row.  I realized that I didn't have enough large heads of garlic to plant - larger cloves of garlic grow to be larger heads of garlic.  So I popped out to the market on Saturday but haven't planted it yet because it's too wet.  It looks like it will sitting on my counter as it's still raining, and then the remnants of Hurricane Sandy are supposed to hit us tonight, giving us more rain, which will apparently be followed by even more rain.  Already our ground is squidgy and mushy.   I've no idea where all this rain will go.

While the garlic and some flower bulbs languish in my home, I did manage to do a few other things.  I spun the most unworthy cabled yarn  ever.  I followed the exact instructions and got this over spun, twisted mess.  It's a pretty mess though, since I used some of the Indigo dyed yarn from my stash.  Not worthy of a photo though.

 Frustrated, I finally got around to processing the  cotton sample I'd spun from some of the naturally coloured cotton I'd purchased.  The colour is supposed to darken when the yarn is boiled.  There is a noticeable difference in the colours.  I took a piece of pipe - supposed to be PVC but I only had ABS around, so I tried it.  I had my sweetie cut it to size and then drill holes in it.  I wrapped the cotton around it and tossed it into a pot of boiling water.   It didn't melt or distort, so I called it good. 

I had a meeting to go to and remembered that I'd cast on a pair of socks at the beginning of the month and promptly forgot about them.  I'd only an inch done on the cuffs, and these were plain Jane, 3/1 ribbing so I could use them as a mindless knitting project.  I got over 3 inches knit at that meeting and then have made time to finish the one and get a start on the other.  I really think I should have chosen a more interesting pattern, although I do prefer wearing ribbed socks to any other - I'm just finding it hard to keep my momentum up for these particular ones - despite the lovely pink in the colourway.

I also dragged out the quilt blocks to work on.  This quilt was supposed to be done by October, so I'd have time to make a second one.   I counted each set of blocks, both dark and light, numerous times and always had 15 of each.  I cut them up into 4 as required by the pattern and as I was reassembling the blocks, I noticed that I have more of the dark blocks than of the light.  Did I just misplace them or did I really miscount each time I checked my block count number?  I've no idea, but it means either blindly making up a few more blocks, or sorting through the fabric shelf where I'd parked them.. neither of those options sounds like much fun.   It's a pretty block though, despite my manage to not match anything but the centre points.   I wonder if that could be because I've actually ended up using 3 machines to piece it together and perhaps they all have slightly different 1/ 4 inch measurements?

I also spun up some silk.  I'd been playing around with silk and I've finally gotten some that I'm quite happy with.  I'd been spinning some dyed Tussah and was getting horribly inconsistent results.  When I tried for more twist, it was harsh and unyielding, with little lustre that silk should have.  With too little twist it was soft, but obviously fuzzy and dull.   So I dug up a small sample of unbleached Tussah and tried it as a comparison!  Yay for that, because I think it's just the silk I'd been using and not me.  Phew!!!

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Blues

I was in the garden, pulling out the tomato plants and putting the stakes away for the winter when I noticed my paltry little patch of Woad had finally started growing.  With the summer drought, it didn't grow much at all and I really didn't want to risk our well by watering the garden too much.   When I planted it, there was a row of regular Woad and a row of Chinese Woad, hoping to do experiments to see what the differences were between the two Woad varieties.  However, this year, there wasn't enough of either to do two decent dye vats, especially this late in the season, when sometimes the pigment isn't as strong as in the heat of the summer. 

 I grabbed a pot and combined the two types of Woad, picking almost every leaf I could find, in hopes of having enough blue to make this dye vat worth while.  I even picked the few Dyer's Knotweed leaves there were, knowing that it needs a slightly different processing to get the full value of the pigment it contains.  I was hopeful that it would add at least a little indigotin to the vat.  There were about 700 grams of Woad leaves to work with.

I use a fairly standard method for processing Woad leaves, similar to what is found in many dyeing manuals available today.  I soak the leaves in water which is very hot - I boil the kettle, turn it off and when it stops bubbling, I pour it over the leaves.  It took 2 kettles full of water to cover the leaves.  Then I let the leaves sit for about an hour.  I used to be precise about waiting 40 minutes but have found that approximately an hour is as good and much less worry.     After squeezing out all the liquid from the soaked leaves, I use baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to make the solution alkaline.  The liquid then needs to be aerated, which I used to do by pouring back and forth between two buckets.  These days though, I use my craft stick blender, which is fast and easy.   The liquid is supposed to be a sherry colour, but mine was a dark icky brown.  The aeration causes foam.  Usually I've had a white foam and when the pigment starts to develop, you see it as blue specks on the foam.  However this foam was light brown and I never did get any flecks, although finally in a weird shadow, I saw a faint blue cast to the foam.  I picked up the stick blender to stretch for a minute and noticed that it was stained a much darker blue than before.  I decided that the pigment was there but the brown froth was masking it.   Two spoons of Thiox to start reducing the vat, and poof, I knew I didn't have too much too worry about.  The only question would be how much blue was in the pot?

I soaked 50 grams of Mohair locks.   When the vat had turned yellowish, I added about 3/4 of them.   I pulled them out a few minutes later and once again, I am always thrilled by the process of the air hitting the fibre and turning the yellowish colour a lovely blue.

After dyeing the rest of the Mohair, I dyed a bit of roving, another handful of Mohair and 2 silk hankies.  I'm quite happy with the results of this dye vat.  There was lots of blue in there and I completely exhausted the blue pigment.  It was a good day to dye!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Colours of October

 I've wanted to get out for a fall colours hike but it hasn't happened.  The many grey, wet days mean that the few sunny days have been used to fetch in our wood for this year's heating season.  Last night though, we had a few moments of glorious sunshine, with a vivid blue sky.   My camera battery chose that exact moment to have no charge.  My fault since I'd been putting off recharging it.  Last night I plugged in the charger and hoped that this morning would still hold a blue sky and a bit of sunshine.  For a few short minutes, we did indeed have some sunshine.  After checking the weather forecast, I grabbed my camera to see what sort of colours I could find in my own back yard.

It's been a good year for colour in this area.  There have been some deep reds, vivid oranges and bright yellows.  There have been days when you'd look up and swear the trees were glowing.   It's been beautiful.

After 10 minutes in the back yard, the sunshine started to wane.  I realized I was quite happy with my leafy colour capturing.  Each of these photos is from a different tree.

Oh, the glorious autumnal colours!  A few fleeting moments of beauty before our world is blanketed in white.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Fleece Festival Adventures

Yesterday was the yearly Fleece Festival.  It's not a huge affair like those across the border, but it's big enough to generate a fair bit of excitement.   There are fibre vendors, equipment vendors, indie yarn companies, rug hooking and more.  I had missed it last year due to a volunteer commitment elsewhere, but this year I was demonstrating spinning for my local guild.    Many people came by with questions about spinning, how spinning wheels worked, stories about their experiences and more.  While I spun most of the day, I did take a couple of stretching breaks where I got to see a lot of the vendors.  I even did a little bit of shopping! 
 I found coloured cotton sliver and ginned cotton.   The ginned cotton is on the top right.  It is Pima, which is a longer stapled cotton.  I have a bit of Acala at home, but thought this would be fun to try.  Below it is some dyed cotton in a rather rich shade of red.  The natural colours are on the left, both cinnamon and sage colours.  The colours are supposed to develop properly after the cotton is finished in boiling water.
 There were a lot of fibre animal breeders selling their own fleeces.  I almost bought a lovely Leicester fleece, but stopped myself  because realistically, I don't have the time to deal with a whole raw fleece right now, no matter how clean and wonderful it was.   I have her business card, just in case though.  I did find a another pound of the Perendale that I'd purchased ages ago.  This time it was on sale.  I'll wash it by the lock like the first pound, so that I have enough for a major project.  There was also some shiny nylon to add to novelty yarns, a small ball of striped dyed roving and a handful of dyed mohair locks.
Meanwhile on the home front, Kevin, who has been trying to snuggle up to our older Cat, finally manged to do so.  He started at one end of the couch and every few minutes he wiggled forward several inches.  Finally he was touching Cat, who was quite alarmed and gave him the evil eye for a good few minutes.  However Kevin was sound asleep so eventually Cat ignored him, since it was obvious that Kevin wasn't moving out of Cat's reserved spot.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Cotton - A different beast..

This weekend I felt relaxed enough to pick up some cotton fibres and try to spin them.  We spun a little bit of cotton in class.  The one time I tried at home, I was just a tad too tense, which made it ridiculously difficult.  Cotton requires a long draw as the fibres are so short.  Depending on the type of cotton the fibres range from 1/2 inch to 1.5 inches long.  This makes it a totally different experience from spinning wool.   I've found being relaxed is important.  The controlling hand with the puni or roving in it needs to be loose and barely holding the fibre.  I had to just let go and trust that the fibre would hold together.  Then you have to get the right amount of twist in it to hold together while you stretch out the slubs and fatter bits before you add more twist to keep it together.  The cotton requires an awful lot of twist to hold it together.     With the fleece festival this weekend, I wanted to decide whether I needed to purchase a Tahkli or not.  A tahkli is a tiny, weighted support spindle for spinning fine fibres.  However, I'm doing an adequate job with spinning cotton on the wheel, so I won't bother with one at this time.  The sample bits look much nicer and much thinner than they are in real life.  This is definitely not sewing thread as much as it looks like it in the photo.

My beets did miserably this summer but the grocery store had them on sale this past week for 5 lbs/ $1.25.  I couldn't pass up that bargain, so I purchased a bag.  After I got home, I put the entire bag into a large pot and boiled them up.  When they were getting close to done, I filled up the canner with water and put in 7 jars to warm up.   Then I made a sugar/vinegar/spice mixture and put it on to warm up as well.   As soon as the beets were soft, I took a few of them at a time out of the hot water and plunged them into ice water.  That way the peels just slip off without any effort.  Once all the beets were peeled, I sliced them up and popped them into the vinegar mixture and brought it all back to a boil and then simmered for about 15 minutes.  Then I strained out the whole spices and quickly took the hot jars out of the canner and filled them up with the hot spicey beet mixture.  A quick clean up of the rims, the lids put on  and then into the canner for 30 minutes of processing.   There are 7 jars of ruby red sweet pickled beets for those days when you need a taste of late summer and some pretty colour on your plate.   There are several variations of spicing  but I used cinnamon sticks, all-spice and cloves to go with the sweet vinegar rather than a savory brine.

Kevin looking surprised that he's caught while exploring the tiny basket.

Kevin trying to eat the little basket.  He's curled up right inside it!  I don't know how much longer he'll fit though.

Kevin tired out after a morning of terrorizing playing.   He does like to sleep close to people.  If someone is on the couch he'll stretch across their laps.  I had to transfer him here from being curled up in my arms as even a tiny kitty gets heavy after a while.  He didn't even wake up when I moved him.  When he realized I was elsewhere, he ran over to me and is now sleeping with his head resting on the keyboard.

Thursday, 4 October 2012


This afternoon I had to pop into the feed store to pick up chook feed. I went in to get a couple of bags of feed and came home with this little guy tucked on my shoulder. 

I didn't actually go in to get a kitten, but the poor little guy had been dropped off.  He asked for a pet but when I tried to put him down, he grabbed on and clung to me, purring away.  He even tried to follow me around, with little cries.  After a last pet, he ended up snuggled in so nicely, that I felt there was no option.  I tucked him in the cab of the truck and home we went.  He's settling in quite nicely.  The only thing is that the menfolk around here decided that if I was going to bring home a kitty without consultation, they were going to name it.  So, may I introduce Kevin.  No romantic names like Lizzie Bennet or Mr. Darcy or Austen.  No funky, fun names from other parts of history or anything else... Nope, male or female (since it's very fuzzy kitten fur is still hiding all the important bits),  it's name is Kevin and oddly enough, the name has stuck!   He/she is obviously a fibre cat, which is a good thing and he's a cuddly, lap, kind of floozy kitten too.  I hope that cuddly bit stays as having a cat which likes to be petted sometimes would be nice.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The busiest week ever!

The dress is done.  An 1860's cotton dress, a petticoat and stays were finally completed in time for a planned 1860's luncheon on Sunday.  I did  a bit of last minute sewing on Saturday afternoon, because I couldn't find a man's vest at any thrift stores and had to make one.  Luckily it was a fairly quick project, even with making a few minutes of confusion over the making of a welt pocket.  It turns out a welt pocket is very easy, the instructions were just a tad confusing.  The biggest issue was the sewing machine which makes an acceptable but always the same, super easy button hole decided that it wasn't cooperating with sewing that day.  Either it didn't like the rather nice worsted wool twill from which the vest was being made or decided it needs servicing.  Regardless, I had to use the machine which makes really nice button holes but is really fussy and doesn't make them all the same size, all the time. This lead to much fussing and upset on my part.  The vest is done, and really, nobody can see the button holes when they are buttoned up and on the man! 
I'll admit to having done nothing but sew the past week.  There was just too much to do with fitting and sewing, with lots of handwork on this project too.   Of course now that it's done, I want another one, so that I can have some variety when I get to play in it.

 I can also use this dress when I'm spinning on this great wheel.  I'll still need to make a day cap, apron and possibly a bonnet to fit with the site requirements.  See that little Canadian Production Wheel in the corner?  That's also an awesome wheel upon which to spin.  It spins like a dream and can go way faster than I can draft.  It's a pretty little thing as well.

I can also use it when I get to bake in this wonderful beehive oven.  It's wood fired.  I've gotten to use it a couple of times, both with success.  Once was in the rain no less, but both days were very warm.  I'll be giving it a go again a next weekend, when it's supposed to be cooler, so we'll see how it performs then.

And the luncheon?  It was such fun.  The friends are doing some homesteading the Victorian way  lifestyle changes.  They live a wonderfully simple and rewarding way.  We ate an amazing meal, in beautiful surroundings, with such good manners and conversation. We walked around their property meeting a gazillion kitties, chooks, ducks, sheep and seeing their bountiful gardens and orchard.   It was a delightful way to spend the day.  We already have plans for next year, with a cider making bee, to use their cider presses.