That’s how I’ve got to get back into blogging, I think! The backlog of interesting projects has grown considerably. Let’s start with this one.
That’s how I’ve got to get back into blogging, I think! The backlog of interesting projects has grown considerably. Let’s start with this one.
I’ve been sick the past few weeks, which has had me mostly miserable on the couch with hands idle. I have been working on a few small things, like Dorset buttons and cotton spinning:
And I’m sampling laces for a reproduction Elizabethan hood:
Other than that, things have been as quiet craftwise as they ever are around here. But once I’m up and around again, there’s a laundry list of things to be done, so I am trying to enjoy the break while waiting for spring to arrive.
And we’re back!
Over the last two months, I have:
I’ve been staying with family since the beginning of April while I recovered from surgery. Fortunately, my hands were unaffected, so here are a few highlights from the crafting front:
1. A second Henslowe, shown above.
2.The Christmas coverlets. Remember that big, mysterious project with the giant cone of yarn? Here’s what it turned into:
Here’s one folded across the back of a chair. Each mini-coverlet is about 30″ x 40″.
3. A rabbit.
4. A snail.
4. A little bird.
And, okay, I admit it– I took a fence shot of the Henslowe:
More to come on both the finished-object and work-in-project fronts. Stay tuned!
Crafting has been rampant in these parts as of late, even if the same cannot be said of blogging. I started a two-month bobbin lace course at the end of January, and have spent many hours making tiny samples, learning stitches, and occasionally sprouting side projects to try out my budding skills.
I have spent an equal number of hours drooling over lace bobbins. They’re the perfect combination and/or perfect storm of small, collectible, relatively affordable (unless you go in for gemstone inlay and elaborate turning), beautifully crafted, useful objects. You can find all sorts of bobbins designed for different aesthetic and functional purposes, and the history of the various types is very interseting. And if you actually make lace, you can justify having a large collection. My biggest project to date called for 19 pairs, but some laces call for hundreds.
My significant other and I spent a weekend in Ottawa recently, and naturally, my lace homework had to come with us on the train. Some people bring laptops; others bring lace pillows. However, I discovered that it’s actually rather difficult to make lace with the correct tension while moving. My teacher was not tremendously impressed with the results.
On a completely unrelated note, this was the view from our hotel room: the Canadian Parliament. Amazing!
Right now, I’m working on some trim, just for fun. It’s up to about twenty inches: we’ll see how long I can go. The Canadian Lacemaker Gazette runs a “five-meter club”, but I didn’t wind anything close to five meters on those bobbins. The weaver’s knot (a brilliant invention) may come to my rescue once again.
Knitting is also making its semi-annual resurgence. In addition to trudging along on the several thousand projects I started last summer, I picked up a few new techniques (Continental!) and am working my way through the new Free-Sole Sock DVD. So far, excellent; I made a mini-sock and learned to knit backwards. I’ll be spending next month recovering from surgery, and hope to have enough mental capacity available to finish at least a few of the four socks, three mittens, two sweaters, and one shawl that I keep meaning to wrap up. There are also a couple of crochet projects yammering at me to finish them. Plus various modifications to existing items, such as a perfectly respectable hat that the recipient shunned as “not warm enough”. At least that can wait until next year. Hmph.
I imagine that weaving will have to take a short hiatus. I’ll be staying with family for a while after the surgery, and though it might be feasible to pack a simple loom or two, I probably wouldn’t use them (I will, after all, be convalescing). Spinning will be subject to similar constraints, though I might pop a spindle in the suitcase. You know, for emergencies.
Also squared away in advance of my departure: two giant bags containing four stinky fleeces. Since my S.O.’s threats of disposal were increasing in proportion to the sheepy smell, I spent the better part of a weekend scouring wool in the bathtub. (And then bleaching the bathtub so as to render it fit for human use.) These fleeces were free, which as fiber-prep folks will know, is a mixed blessing. In the end, I kept the two best fleeces and disposed of the other two, which were heavily matted and very dirty. The ones I kept are of an unidentified longwool: Lincoln or something close to it, but I didn’t have the chance to ask the shepherd since the fleeces were a surprise present (thank you!). Anyway, I now have one white fleece and one black-brown fleece. No plans for them yet, but maybe I’ll make a two-toned fleece rug this summer, à la Anne Field.
Now, there is fringe to be twisted and hems to be stitched. Or I could act like an adult and start my taxes. Thoughts?
Between twisting fringe, washing fleece, learning to crochet, digging through dormant works-in-progress, winding warps, and planning new projects, this past month has been a busy one. A few days ago, I made a happy discovery while idly browsing Etsy*: the manufacturer of my baby loom! It’s a toy loom from Brio, and at least one other adult weaver has succumbed to its charms. I wasn’t able to identify it before because one supporting beam, which would have been marked Brio, is missing. It seems that later versions of this loom used a rigid heddle, but mine is definitely an older model.
Once I knew its manufacturer, I could find a PDF version of the instruction manual. To my astonishment…
…it folds! When I saw it in the weaving shop, I tried to collapse it for transportation, but when nothing moved, I assumed the loom wasn’t made for it. Actually, it was just that the screws on which the braces rest had rusted, and just needed to be loosened slightly.
Now it can come with me wherever I go. Or, at least, places that my Fanny couldn’t. So, with an upcoming weekend trip in mind, I warped it up again. Using a finer yarn than last time meant tying another 40 string heddles and using two ends per dent, but as a bonus, this made the log cabin threading a piece of cake. The yarn is Lion Brand 1878, which is a new one for me: a review on Amazon compared it to Harrisville Shetland for half the price, and so far it’s very nice, though I did find one knot and one weak spot in the eighty meters I wound for this mini-project. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
Meanwhile, the laboratory kitchen was taking on a suspiciously sheepy smell, so I could justify spending time happily washing fleece in lieu of dishes. Below, a smidgeon of California Red and Targhee from the Spinning Loft:
The Targhee has a good bit of VM, so I’ll be spending some time picking by hand while plotting to build a box picker. I think I’m going to card the stuff and spin it before dyeing, but I did toss some commercial BFL roving into the dyepot. Having done all the samples for my gamp at once, now I’m focusing on one dyestuff at a time.
Since it’s been a while since my last post, and the holiday season looms, there’s plenty else in the works: a hairpin lace shawl, a crocheted hat, a knitted sweater, and a 600-end Mystery Warp, all to be revealed in due time. But for today, I’ll leave it at that. Hope you’re having a nice November!
*A too-frequent pastime. Help!
You may think I’m kidding, but the fiber arts can lead you down a perilous road. Mostly due to the interesting diversions along the wayside.
My friend chopsticknitter has already posted a batch of pictures from the Twist festival in her blog, so I’ll be brief in my review: it was lots of fun, and it has indirectly provided me with more potential blogging content than I know what to do with. In terms of fiber, I stocked up on Shetland, Cheviot, alpaca, and even a bit of bison. (For the sake of my dignity, this indecent haul will not be pictured.) My favorite, though, is the tiny sample of qiviut that is now occupying my supported spindle. This is shockingly beautiful stuff.
Of course, I have to mention our trip to the loom room. After the
greedier other members of my group appropriated the most exotic looms, I found my way to a Fanny just like my own, but pre-warped and conveniently unattended.
We also passed a room that had clearly been occupied by a dyeing workshop, which would have been fun to take. I’ve always been fascinated by natural dyeing. After getting back from the festival, and having picked up all that springy Cheviot, I wound off a batch of ten-yard skeinlets for my schemlets.*
To date, I’ve experimented with lac, madder, cutch, logwood, pomegranate, turmeric, chamomile, and some rather unsightly black beans. Aside from the lac, these are all plant dyes. (Lac dye comes from a bug-produced resin, making it less icky than dyeing with cochineal, which involves grinding up bugs. I might not mind, but my significant other is concerned that we might find dried insects scattered around the kitchen. He’s probably right.) Anyway, I think the sample skeins will be perfect for weaving a color gamp or two.
“But, tintinnael,” you may ask, “how will you weave any gamps? Isn’t your loom already occupied?”
Well, yes, it is:
But on Saturday, my mother happened to come across this dainty creature gathering dust in the corner of a weaving shop in Vermont. As soon as I saw it, it was love.
It’s a two-shaft counterbalance table loom, toy-sized but fully functional. I’ve seen similar looms on Etsy and eBay, but usually in worse condition for higher prices. (Worthy of note: this one was twenty bucks.) It came intact with a wooden reed and two functioning ratchet-and-pawl mechanisms on the front and back beams. The only things missing: heddles and heddle bars, i.e., string and sticks. So I spend an hour tying string heddles and hacked some dowels to size. To stabilize my makeshift shafts, I tied the lower bars to one another, going underneath the roller at the center of the loom. I’m not sure if this is the originally intended configuration, but it seems to work just fine. And to change the shed, all you have to do is flip the lever on the top of the loom.
Here are some close-up shots of the riggings:
Although it looks delicate, I am pleased to report that the little loom holds up to a good amount of tension. I wouldn’t use it to make floor rugs, but tiny tapestry samples are not out of the question. (Also, I’m careful to take the tension off the warp after every weaving session, a suggestion I read somewhere and have internalized to the point of neurosis. Fellow weavers, is this good practice?)
So, my next project seems likely to be a natural-dye gamp on this little charmer. See how one thing leads to another? There’s no hope for any of us fiber folk.
If you’ve made it this far into my rambling post, you may be interested to see my brand-new Twitter page, also linked from the sidebar to your right. I’m starting to get into the tweeting habit: if you’re there, let me know!
*I know. It doesn’t rhyme.
Alas, the blue mitten is no more. I picked it up again this week and came face to face with a dismal truth: the colors just weren’t going to fly. The colorwork bird was completely indistinguishable.
Dismayed perusal of other blogs and various media led me to the conclusion that I should have used different colors in the first place. Other possible fixes– say, swapping the main yarn and the variegated yarn– wouldn’t solve the real problem: there just isn’t any contrast in hue or value between most of the colors (while the lime green contrasted rather too enthusiastically).
This time around, I’m trying the variegated handspun on a white background, although I admit that I didn’t rip out the sad blue mitten until I was well into the new version. It’s something to do with potential: I couldn’t bring myself to take apart the old mitten until I was more invested in it being a ball of string than an object, even a flawed one. (Does that make sense? Are you the same way?) At any rate, here’s how the colors look together:
As of this writing, I’m nearly at the end of the thumb gusset, and am pleased to report encouraging results thus far.
Despite my frustrations in the knitting realm, I seem to keep coming up with new reasons to knit. A few days ago I finished the last spinning project that was started during the Tour de Fleece, a hefty skein of 3-ply that’s really a knitting yarn. What would you do with a couple of hundred yards of strongly marled (say not barberpole!), worsted-weight merino?
Otherwise, spinning has slowed down to a more manageable pace. I rearranged the living room furniture last weekend so that I have a Weaving Corner and a Spinning Corner, but since my supported spindle came in the mail a couple of days ago, I’ve spent rather more time in the Couch Corner.
I have a chained warp sitting on the loom bench, just waiting to be beamed and threaded. I’ll tackle that as soon as I can, since this month may be the calm before the fluffy storm: I’m hoping to go to three of the fall fiber festivals this year, and to join the local weaving guild as soon as mysterious renovations to their location are completed, and embark on myriad small projects. If all goes well, some of them might actually get done.
So I’ve wrapped up my first Tour de Fleece, literally and figuratively.
I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish: maybe not the plentiful miles of yarn I was vaguely picturing, but a huge improvement in technique. During the rare spinning downtimes, in lieu of posting here, I worked my way through Anne Field’s Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics, as well as large chunks of the Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning, a couple of DVD workshops, and various other pedagogical materials. (Question: would you be interested in reviews?)
While all this frenzied reading has been humbling– there’s so much left to learn!– I’m already much happier with the yarn I’m able to produce. I’ve successfully spun woolen yarns, reined in my tendency to overply, created and dyed a hideous bouclé yarn, and experimented with some new and interesting breed-specific wools. I think my favorite of those so far is a half-ounce Finn sample that I picked up in Vermont:
I’d like to try some more of this soon. There’s something in the luster and the shade of white that’s very appealing– and it was fun to spin. (In point of fact, I think I am developing a small problem when it comes to breed-specific wools. And sheep. My computer desktop wallpaper is presently adorned with a charming Herdwick.)
As you may have read in my last post, the hardest part of the Tour for me was actually keeping up with the Ravelry forum. (In my defense: it’s gigantic!) I focused my posting efforts on a once-a-day photo, but even one photo is surprisingly difficult to wrangle when you’re taking it late at night: poor lighting and operator fatigue do not make for the greatest shots. However, results of the experiment are presented below for your consideration.
There are some more crafty activities occurring around here, but I think we’ll save them for a future post. Spinning may not be physical exertion like… well, riding a bike*… but I am bushed.
*Not necessarily true. I have had the pleasure of observing a homemade bicycle-spinning wheel hybrid in action.
For the last week and a bit, I’ve been participating in the Tour de Fleece, which is an online spinning event that corresponds to the, you know, bike thing.
Here are a few glimpses of what I’ve spun so far:
There are no specific objectives for participants, but since I am a person who needs structure, I put together a list of tasks and a calendar for tracking my progress. On any given day, I will do anything spinning-related so long as it’s on the Official List. Side projects need not apply: any fiendish ideas that come along (about, say, building a flax distaff or learning to spin cotton) are on ice until after this event.
Of course, I put enough on the list to keep me busy:
The event takes place largely on Ravelry, which I am finding more or less impossible to keep up with. (It’s like trying to have a conversation around a dinner table with thousand other people: by the time I start to respond to a post, the topic of conversation has already zipped along to something else.) But so far, I’ve spun a few hundred yards and made a couple of little spindles. I’m going to see if I can manage a mile of plied yarn by the end of the Tour on the 22nd. Wish me luck– or join in yourself!
One of the problems I’m having in the studio is pacing myself. I want to try everything, all at once, while simultaneously mastering every detail. (I think there’s a contradiction inherent to this sentiment.)
Lately, I’ve been drawn to the allure of fiber preparation. Not having any raw fiber handy, I consoled myself with combing together an ounce apiece of baby camel down and tussah silk. I took to my trusty Ashford spindle with the resulting globs of fluff. I think this will turn into a weft yarn for a warp of some leftover Tencel that I have lying around.
I used a dog slicker for the actual blending. Here’s a comparison of the fibers before spinning:
I’ve also been trying to learn different methods of drafting on the spinning wheel. Strangely enough, I’ve got my antique wheel to a point of relative stability, and it’s spinning well. I’m still planning to take the flyer in for a permanent repair as soon as possible, but with a little bit of shimming here and there, things are moving just fine.
I’m comfortable with a couple of different drafting techniques on a spindle, but the options for wheel spinning are numerous and new to me. I’m working my way through the techniques in the DVD A Spinner’s Toolbox, and discovered that what I’ve been doing naturally is actually a variant of woolen spinning. (When I heard Judith MacKenzie say that everyone is either a worsted spinner or a woolen spinner, it was as the footsteps of doom. Worsted spinning seems the logical choice for most of the projects I want to make. But this long-draw thing is… weirdly compelling.)
In fact, spinning with a short forward draw at all presents me with some ergonomic challenges. Why? Well, on my wheel, the mother-of-all on my wheel sits to the left, and I treadle with the right foot. But my hands are used to spindle spinning, where I hold the fiber in my left hand and draft with the right.
The technique I’ve slipped into could be classed as an attenuated long draw. It’s not ideal for what I want to do (spin warp yarn), but it should work.
I’ll still probably have to figure out how to draft left-handed– not a bad idea in any case– but I think it will take some time to get my hands coordinated.
This is the resulting yarn, before washing:
I did whip up a woven sample with some of the wheel-spun yarn. This was a one-morning warping job: 60 ends go fast. I took the opportunity to work on my plain weave, which is a surprisingly challenging thing. Any unevenness in the beat or selvedges sticks out like a sore thumb.
Since the warp was short, and I was weaving at ten picks per inch, I had the sample off the loom and into the bathtub in no time.
I can’t actually wear much wool (due to a strong inclination to sneeze), so this will remain in the Basket of Interesting Experiments, but I do have an official Finished Project to share. I’ve been knitting this hat on the sly as a gift:
I’m surprised to find that I really enjoy knitting stranded colorwork. Innumerable possibilities present themselves.
Now, it’s time to get ready for the Tour de Fleece. More to come!