Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bag It!

My knitting project list keeps growing by leaps and bounds! Not only have I still not knitted a single thing for myself -- except the cabled wrist warmers from -- but I'm now on a self-imposed deadline to finish half the projects I've got started.
1. Sam's blue striped socks. I've got one and a half socks finished. Still have the foot and toe to do on Sock Number 2.
2. Sam's corset. Not even started yet, but I have the needles, yarn, and pattern.
3. Mom's sweater. Got the book, yarn, and needles.
4. Sarah's baby blanket. I suspect that the baby has been born by now, and the blanket is less then 3/4 of the way finished.
5. The shawl. It's about 2/3 of the way finished and is probably the closest thing on the list to being completed.
6. THE BLASTED BAGS! I just ordered the yarn... at mom's urging. IN ALL AUTUMN COLORS, which by winter will probably look like florescent putrescence.
In early December there's a craft show. I decided that, should we decide to participate this year, I'd like to take something other than soap, lip balm, and hand lotion. Silly me. Am I really capable of knitting five of the French Market bags, felting them, and making them suitable for presentation to potential buyers at a craft show? I'd better be.
It's recently been suggested that, rather than continue to knit things for people, I suggest that perhaps it might be a good thing for them to learn how to do; for the most part, people who aren't crafty seem not to realize how much work is actually involved in knitting a pair of socks, let alone a sweater. They might appreciate the end result, but they never see you struggling with dropped stitches or laddered corners, or the neckline that turns out to be too small to go over your head and needs to be frogged and redone.
Well, I've taught mom the basics. She continues to struggle on a daily basis with the pattern for a two-needle watch cap: basic hat, knitted on two needles, ribbed brim and garter stitch body, some sewing involved. Easy? Maybe I flatter myself in thinking that once I've mastered the basics I can move on to more complicated things. I've knitted socks, right? And a sweater? So why is it so difficult to teach someone the basics and have them do the simplest of hats? Could it be that I'm just not a good teacher, or is she just aiming too high too soon? And don't even get me started on the "I don't have the patience" people. More like "I don't have the discipline", I suspect.
Since I've learned how to knit, I've learnt to enjoy the challenges presented by trying to figure out a new pattern. It's not tedious, whatever some people might think. Nor do men's appertinances drop off if they learn to knit. During the First and Second World Wars, soldiers knitted. Hell, the whole country knitted! Probably a goodly portion of the world in general was, at one time or another during the course of the wars, occupied by knitting scarves, socks, gloves, helmet liners, and who knows what else to keep the soldiers' extremities warm. Before that, knitting wasn't really gender specific to women, either. During the early development of knitting between the 14th and 16th centuries, and indeed until the 18th century, knitting was men's work; European knitting guilds were men-only... sorry, ladies. It wasn't until the 20th century that more women began to take an interest in it as a social activity, and then knitting started to become seen as something better left to the fairer sex.
And people claim not to have patience? Puh-leeze.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sea Foam Again

My first attempt at dyeing unspun wool somehow came out a bit better than I'd originally thought, and along the way I've learned quite a few strange things about how the process works. The color, which I first thought was pretty yucky, now looks less objectionable; the old "things will look better in the morning" did happen to be true this time. Wool is a sensitive fiber to work with because it reacts to temperature changes and can get very upset by sudden shocks like going from a nice warm dyepot to being rinsed under a faucet that isn't close to the same temperature; I was upset myself when I thought the roving was all felted. Nope. Turns out that wool compacts when it's being submerged in liquid and then has most of the liquid squeezed out, no matter how gently you squeeze; that's the nature of wool, according to someone who was kind enough to answer my frantic question on Fiberlings.
Now.. the things I've learned:
1. Hard water makes your wool feel all stiff no matter how fluffy it was before you dyed it.
1A. Rachael suggests giving the yarn spun from it a bath with hair conditioner, or possibly adding salt to the dye bath to help soften the water. I'll have to remember both of those next time I attempt to dye things.
2. A hair brush does NOT make a good substitute for hand cards! The little nubbly bristles are too far apart and too coarse to do an effective job of carding wool. I'll see if the finer bristled dog/cat brushes work at all; if not, I'll get lots of cat hair over the course of brushing the kitties. I wonder if it's spinnable?
3. KoolAid is not a sovereign remedy for icky colors.
4. No matter how careful you are with keeping temperatures constant when you're moving fiber between one bath and another, and rinsing, or how slowly and gently you stir, roving will compact because that's its nature. The appearance of being less fluffy after it dries is fixable if you choose to card it a second time (assuming it was carded before you dyed it and wasn't uncarded fleece to begin with).
5. You can never have too many bobbins.
6. Dyeing is unpredictable. Whether there's an element of surprise even for experienced dyers, I'm not sure, but I'm certainly getting results that are other than my original expectations. Not that I'm complaining... well.. not really..
7. Niddy-Noddies or skein winders are an absolute must unless you're athletic and like playing a different type of musical chairs.
I was exceedingly annoyed this afternoon that someone told me spinning yarn is tedious. My response was that I find it soothing, both in the rhythm of the wheel and the sound it makes while it's spinning and in the almost meditative repetition of drafting and treadling. Tedious? If you're like her and like to make a big splash by saying you've bought yarn from some expensive boutique just to make a splash, then people might find YOU tedious. There's something strangely satisfying in knitting something with wool yarn as opposed to acryllic yarns. That's not to say that all acryllic yarns are awful; there are some of which I'm quite fond. I just.. happen to like wool better now that I've come to know how pleasurable it is to work with. By the same token, making something with wool you've dyed and spun with your own hands -- and feet if you use a wheel -- is also very satisfying. Not the same as a cup of hot chocolate with a splash of Buttershots and a pinch of cinnamon, but... almost.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sea Foam

At this time of year, allergy sufferers begin to arm themselves against a new set of allergens like leaf mold and goldenrod. It's a common misconception that the latter has much to do with hay fever and sneezing fits; I certainly didn't suffer any paroxysms of sneezing this afternoon while I was out in the garden, and I'm pretty allergic to a lot of pollens and molds.
This dye thing is beginning to turn into a Frankenstein. I remember someone on DyeHappy mentioning goldenrod as a dye plant, and this afternoon I was stricken by the "Let's see what happens if we do this" disease. I hied myself out to one of the small flower beds and, armed with a basket and a pair of enormous scissors, did battle with clouds of gnats, mosquitos, and other annoying flying nuissances, and was rewarded for my efforts with five ounces of goldenrod blossoms, stems, and leaves. What better way to spend the afternoon than in the house, away from said flying pests, doing something interesting like fiddling with dye? Even Dr. Frankenstein had a few bugs to work out, and even a coffee strainer doesn't catch them all.
I've dyed yarn four times since I learned to spin my own, and in the process used henna, KoolAid, and beet leaves with varying degrees of success. This time around, I dug out my other two dye books and thought about how to approach this new challenge. My cast iron pot does, it appears, work as a mordant in that it changes the color of the dye bath... the results are usually rather unappealing, however, and I seem to always end up making an effort to correct these unappetizing colors by falling back on KoolAid.
The dye bath was easy enough to make: plant material, water, vinegar (optional), and for some unknown reason I was siezed by the impulse to put the rind of half a lemon in the pot as well. I let it simmer for an hour before I strained it, then poured the dye liquor into the cast iron pot. At that point it was a sort of medium yellow-green and not as yucky as the pictures I took show it to be. According to one of my books, the use of iron with goldenrod results in an intense avocado green, which I thought might be nice to try for. I let the mixture simmer for fifteen minutes in the iron pot and was dismayed to see that, rather than becoming avocado, it had turned to pea soup green. I strained the liquid a second time with the aid of a coffee filter in the sieve and let it cool while the wool was in the mordant bath.
Another problem is that I was dyeing unspun wool, not yarn. This means that you have to stir VERY carefully and very slowly to avoid agitating the wool and making it felt. You also have to be careful not to have any sudden temperature changes when you move the wool from one pot to another, or when you rinse it. Soaking and mordanting were fine, but I'm not sure I was careful enough when I put it in the dye pot and rinsed it later on. The color would also probably have been better if I'd just left it alone, but again, I was aiming for something other than what I got. Once again, prayers to the God of KoolAid were said and I added one -- ONE -- packet of some blue lemonade thing to the dye pot. When I poured it in, I hoped the dye would streak, making it sort of tie-dyed, which it kind of did. The color, alas, is now a sort of soft, streaked sea foam green. I could also probably have saved what was left in the dye bath for another attempt, but I wasn't thinking when I poured it out. And before I could take a picture of the dyed roving, the camera battery died. Here, however, are the rest of the pictures of this experiment. I'll try to get a picture of the sea foam wool tomorrow; things might also look better once the wool is dry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Poke Berry Pie

I suppose I should be applying myself a bit more aggressively to the task of job hunting, especially considering the plans I've made for my future. There's nothing really wrong with bagging groceries or flipping burgers, but I've got an almighty college degree. I've never been so foolish as to assume that simply having a piece of paper makes me more suitable as an employee, but does it really make me that much of a threat? Obviously I didn't get the job at the craft store; while I'm not exactly heartbroken, I'm somewhat disappointed because it was an environment where I think I could have thrived and been able to contribute. Which means I'm basically back to square one. Anyone want to hire a recent graduate with a degree in history and a minor in Spanish literature? It's getting to be like Mel Blanc's train ticket agent asking if anyone wants to go to Kookamonga and then being so griefstricken that no one does, he shoots himself. Not that I'm that depressed about being jobless. There's just... nothing here that isn't mind-numbing, let alone that I'm qualified to do. I'm obviously neither a dentist nor a registered nurse, nor a physical therapist, any more than I'm a licensed paleobotanist. Okay.. the last is a stretch, but I'm still not one of those.
About the only positive from the lack of employment is that I have time to do things that are more satisfying than struggling and scrubbing floors for the Yankee Dollar, like spending time with important people (you know who you are!), knitting, spinning yarn, and dyeing projects. The freezer looks a little like a cross between a health food store and a mad florist because of all the bags of funny plants in it: marigolds, amaranth catkins, purple basil, coreopsis, and dahlias, as well as one enormous bag filled almost to bursting with pokeberries. The failure with the beet leaves notwithstanding, I hope to finish spinning the last of my white wool tomorrow or Wednesday, which should give the three pounds of roving I ordered (two pounds of white, one of gray) time to arrive, as well as giving the stock pot of pokeberries in vinegar and water time to finish doing whatever they're doing.
Last week I took a quick detour on the way home from the doctor's office and went driving along Luther Jones Road on a whim. At this time of year the roadside is dotted with berry-bearing plants of numerous kinds, including pokeberry; the berries are almost all ripe and a lovely dark purple. Since Rachael's series of posts concerning this very plant's use as a dyestuff, I wondered if I might take advantage of the fact that there's a bumpercrop of the stuff readily available -- and since she's already done a fair amount of research, I have something to go on. My detour cost me a barely visible dent in the car door when an unseen rock flew up and went DING! when I pulled off the road to go in search of ripe berries. Several passing motorists seemed astonished to see me tramping through the weeds and hopping over poison ivy at the edge of an orchard; this excursion netted me two ziplock sandwich bags of berries and some nice purple stains on my fingers. When I got home, I found out that there were enough plants growing in the yard to fill a large ziplock freezer bag with berries. Score! Into the freezer all three bags went.
The next day, I took the two smaller bags out of the freezer and plopped the frozen contents into my enormous stock pot. I think it's stainless steel, but I'm not sure.. it has a nice heavy lid and is big enough to make a six pound batch of soap with plenty of room to spare. I filled the pot about a third of the way with hot water and used the potato masher on the berries to try to break them up a little before I sloshed some vinegar into the mix. I didn't measure, but I think it must have been a good cup or so of vinegar. I could easily add more since I have two gallons stashed in the pantry for soap-making clean-up jobs. The pot has been sitting on the front step since Friday morning with its lid anchored by a cheerful, winged cast-iron pig named Francis Bacon. I figure that whatever heat the pot gets from sunlight during the day will probably help the berries break down a little more and release more pigment; as it is the solution is almost black, it's so dark. I'm hoping that by leaving the lid on, there's less chance that the tanins in the pigment (thanks, Rachael, for mentioning it) will begin to turn the juice brown. In a few days, or once I've got the new wool mordanted, I'll strain the mix and add some more water and vinegar so I can dye the roving. Rachael's recent posts indicate some browning of her early batches; maybe the addition of some KoolAid of either blue or dark red might help with the light-fastness? I'm not sure if I want to go that route, though. I've never dyed roving before, either, so this will be an interesting experience. My next project will more than likely involve either marigolds or some of the enormous amount of coreopsis I've been harvesting since early June; there are still lots of buds, but since the weather is getting colder, I'm not sure how much longer the plants will continue to bloom. Lots of dahlia buds, too, and all of them are dark purple, which means I'll get more pigment from them than the lighter blooms. I'm looking forward to that lovely burnt orange color!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Earlier in the year I planted seeds for Bull's Blood beets, as well as a lot of other dye plants like coreopsis and amaranth. These little guys are supposedly good for dye, but the roots are so tiny they're hardly worth harvesting to eat unless you plant a metric ton of them. About three weeks ago I went into the garden and pulled up several handfuls of beets specifically for the leaves, but at the time I wasn't really sure what I would do with them.
Most of what I've read on the Dye-Happy yahoo group and in the books I've got said beets will start out a lovely purplish-pinkish-reddish, but eventually this will fade to a brown in much the same way most berry dyes do. I wish I'd read Rachael's Dye-Happy post about boiling things before I got started this morning, because it would have kept me from getting brown liquid that looked like strong tea, rather than the purplish stuff I started with! That's exactly what I did, and I've been wracking my brain trying to come up with a reason for the color change. That was the one thing I didn't think of, but I'm glad she said something about it in her recent poke berry post.Whether Bull's Blood beets fade to brown under normal circumstances I shall never know -- at least not until next time I plant some more! I was very upset by my suddenly brown beet dye, so I threw in five packets of Black Cherry KoolAid (dissolved in two cups of hot water so it wouldn't streak). I've taken pictures at various points along the way, though I didn't take any of my little acrobatic/ballet pas de deux with two chairs and two of Clotho's bobbins -- that was an interesting experience! Skeinwinders must be wonderful inventions. Certainly much less fuss and fiddle involved, I'd think.
I feel a little guilty for cheating with the KoolAid, but I think the resulting mix of brown and red came out much nicer than either would have been on their own. Next time, hopefully I'll remember Rachel's sage advice on not boiling things because they turn brown!
Here are the pictures: (Dye-ary = diary... get it? hee!)

Thursday, September 7, 2006

4 Norns?

Recently I've been lamenting the lack of things in the mail that aren't for mom, which is silly because the end result is that the contents of the packages she's been getting are usually fibercraft books for me, mostly to do with knitting. My knitting to-do list is growing, so I've been frantically trying to finish up projects before more pop up like mushrooms, which is difficult in this humdity.
Last evening, while I was up to my elbows in making a chicken curry with vegetables and pad thai noodles, our fierce guard hound announced that some stranger was in the driveway, nay, at the very door. I went to investigate and trailed clouds of spices from the kitchen to the front door, and what should I find but a box with MY name on it; said box was almost my height, and quite wide. I was thrilled. At last! Something for ME!
I dragged the huge box into the house and indulged myself in the first part of unpacking it: I cut the tape and unfolded the flaps, only to be greeted by an enormous amount of evil styrofoam. And then I went back to the kitchen to finish cooking my curry. I had a pretty good idea of what was in the box, so I called my friend Sam, and then I called my mother -- yes, we live in the same house, but I don't think she heard my bellowing about the arrival -- to let them know the joyous news. I resolved not to unpack the box until after dinner, though all through the meal I kept casting longing glances in the direction of the ginormous box.
Finally, dinner was eaten and dishes washed, so I dove into the heaps of styrofoam to get at the contents of the box: my very own spinning wheel. As soon as the three rather large pieces came out of the box -- the person who sold it to me was kind enough to do most of the hard work for me, like assembling all the smallish pieces into three largish pieces -- I picked up the stray bits of evil styrofoam and went around hunting for a screw driver and a hammer.
Half an hour later, I hauled my assembled wheel upstairs and sat down to practice treadling. I got a strong impression that the wheel was definitely feminine. Some of the Kromski wheels look very masculine, I think, as do some of the Louet. This, however, was neither of those: she's an Ashford, thank you very much, and her name is Clotho the Fourth Norn. For those of you who read this who DON'T know what that means, I'll provide an explanation.
Most mythologies have a Fate figure of some kind; most of these are female and have three aspects. The Greek figure is female and has three aspects whose names are Clotho (She Who Spins), Lachesis (She Who Measures), and Atropos (She Who Cuts); from the names and job descriptions, it must have something to do with thread. Duh. They spin, measure, and cut the threads of life to determine lifespan and what path a person's fate will take through that lifespan. Similarly, the Norse figure is female and there are three of them -- sensing a pattern here? -- though in this case, all three are visible at any one time. They're the Norns who sit under Yggdrasil and spin the threads of fate. According to D'Aulaire's book of Norse myths, the Norns also get very upset when the end of the world is about occur; "Woe!" they cry, and cover their faces, and refuse to continue spinning.
Anyway, my first wheel is proving to be an interesting challenge. I've succeeded in figuring out the treadling and drafting -- it's completely different from a drop spindle -- but I'm not sure how to make the yarn feed onto the bobbin evenly. It all gets deposited at one end of the bobbin, which isn't at all what I'm aiming for. Soon, though! AND I've found a source of good, inexpensive wool -- $7.50 a pound, as opposed to the $11 and up from other places -- so it's unlikely that I'll run out of wool to spin anytime soon since I know where to get it.