Category Archives: Tools and Equipment

Northerly

One of the things about writing professionally is that you tend to run out of words by the end of the day. Even a blog write-up is a baffling prospect.

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Fortunately, I’m not weaving for a living!

For my birthday this year, I got a beautiful cherry inkle loom  from SpriggsCreations. It has all of the features I was looking for in a floor inkle loom: easily adjustable tension, sturdy pegs, and that horizontal bar that lets you sit closer to the loom than three-pronged looms like the Cendrel.

To go with the loom, I received a just-as-beautiful Sami shuttle from Ampstrike, which I have long wished for. It’s even better than I thought! Using the shuttle with a rigid heddle designed for supplementary-warp bands, picking out  patterns is almost as fast as treadling a floor loom.

Much more to come on this subject. I’ll be teaching a Baltic band weaving workshop at my guild in January. In the meantime, know that many band warps have been wound and woven: mostly wound, since I’m having so much fun trying out new things!

 

Speaking of new things, I’ve joined the SCA, resulting in a few reenactment goods mysteriously appearing around the house. I wove a silk cap and a wool shawl, and made a leather needle case and sheath as well as a few other goodies suitable for a Shetlandic Norse persona. The only thing I’m not making by hand is the jewelry, because… well, it’s another hobby, and I’m not allowed to start any more hobbies. (Leatherworking doesn’t count, because that’s basically sewing. Right?)

I’ve gotten friendly with several members of my local SCA group, and joined them for a fun workshop in silk painting. I’ve also been practicing the Bayeux embroidery stitch. The resulting projects are less historically accurate, but nonetheless entertaining:

In keeping with the Scandinavian angle that my crafting has taken of late, I dug out an embroidery kit that my mom found at a thrift shop for the grand sum of twenty-five cents. Isn’t it cute?

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It might even be done in time for Christmas.

Well, maybe.

Country Living

And we’re back!

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Over the last two months, I have:

  • Hugged a chicken (live)
  • Stuffed a rabbit (knitted)
  • Made a Honiton lace pillow
  • Watched two baby doves hatch, grow, and fly away
  • Introduced guinea pigs to the wonders of fresh grass
  • Learned new recipes
  • Spent time with family
  • Knit things

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:

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Here’s one folded across the back of a chair. Each mini-coverlet is about 30″ x 40″.

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3. A rabbit.

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4. A snail.

4. A little bird.

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And, okay, I admit it– I took a fence shot of the Henslowe:

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More to come on both the finished-object and work-in-project fronts. Stay tuned!

Playing catch-up (and with bobbins)

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

Yarn, Plant Matter, and the Dangers of Fiber Festivals

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.

See where this stuff gets you?

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.

The skein in the background is the delicious Handmaiden Camelspin in Pewter, which is on its way to becoming a shawl for a real-life knit-along.

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.

Delighted weaving ensued.

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.*

The results of my headfirst dive into the dyepot: lots of yarn and a mild headache.

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:

This is the scarf that never ends. Please don’t ask how long it’s been on the loom.

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.

Mittens and Museums

First, the mittens!

My half-handspun Nightingale adaptation is now progressing nicely. I think the design is more succesful with this combination of yarns, at least on an aesthetic level, but I’m not sure the mittens will fit my monstrously large hands. I’m holding out hope for a bit of blocking magic.

Also on the Coffee Table of Crafting, a small piece of cross-stitch that I made from a kit picked up at the local Highland Games. Making something from a kit led to much rumination on the nature of creativity, and whether I was actually adding anything new to the world, and whether making a project from a kit is the same as using someone else’s pattern and following their yarn specifications, and whether there is any point to changing something just for the sake of changing it, and why it’s easier not to follow “recipes” in weaving (no shaping! …generally), and then– I decided not to worry about it. So here is my Wee Hieland Coo. (I kid you not, that was the name of the kit. This may have played a role in my purchasing decision.)

As it turned out, I did wind up placing my own personal stamp on the project. After a few days of carefully managing every last thread, I misplaced the whole glob of it just as I was finishing the cow’s head. Rather than wait until the weekend to go thread-hunting, I dug into my embroidery box for some close-enough floss. So, this is a blonder Hieland Coo than some– but according to Wikipedia, they come in all shades of orange to yellow! Of course, I found the missing floss immediately after completing the project. (It was stuck between the pages of my mitten pattern.)

Also on the coffee table, another knitting project has mysteriously appeared. I can’t figure out how this happens. I keep telling you, I’m not a knitter!

Socks. This yarn will become socks.

In loom-land, my warp is still…  well, with another half hour’s work, I should be up and weaving again.

Now, on to the museum. This is becoming something of a theme on the blog. Last weekend I went to this delightful little museum, which fills up the floor of an old stone church with beautiful stained glass, various artisanal works, and a few artifacts of interest to textile folks:

My significant other thought it was funny to see a glass case full of things that I use all the time. (He’s learning to identify the different tools and even to recognize quality!)

Sadly, there were some errors in the labelling, in both French and English. This cute little artifact was identified as a spindle, though it is, of course, a distaff. I am considering contacting the museum to let them know.

But the real treasure of the visit was from the gift shop:

Yes! A book all about the ceinture fléchée, complete with instructions for finger weaving a number of different traditional designs. I think this is becoming a mini research project of mine. They had a nice example on display, too:

I believe this dates from the early twentieth century, but I’m not certain. Next time I’ll take notes.

Already I’m eyeing my baskets of yarn bits and dreaming of inkle-loom adaptations. But it will have to wait for a bit: tomorrow it’s off to the races, by which I mean the Twist fiber festival, with friends chopsticknitter and starweaving.

And yes, the inkle loom is coming along for the ride.

A Lesson in Values

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.

I wouldn’t fly either if I were that muddy.

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?

Spun out of some nifty fiber from Paper and Yarn. Actually, I’ve noticed that it looks really nice sitting next to the rewound blue yarn from the ex-mitten. Hmm…


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.

Cherry spindle from Gripping Yarn. Cute and speedy!

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.

A Regular Fleecing

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.

Sorting out your fluff and spindles: the handspinning equivalent of carbo-loading.

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!