Wednesday, April 30, 2008

When Knitters Frolic

What I bought at the Knitter's Frolic last weekend. "Full disclosure", that's my motto.

- Niddy-noddy (tulipwood), shawl pin (holly) and brooch (black Africa Wood), a dozen tulipwood bottons, and five other buttons (from L to R: spalted maple, Africa Wood, tagua nut, deer antler and sea shell) from that wonderful Ontario woodworker who was next to The Purple Purl's booth. I got his card. He sells his buttons through Purple Purl. I had to stop, I could have gotten in so much trouble at that booth.
- 2-pitch mini-combs by Roger Hawkins (of Peterborough, Ontario), a 900 yd. cone of 2-ply white shetland (soon to be dyed in a cochineal bath) for weaving, and The Handweaver's Pattern Directory from Gemini Fibres. Oh wow, I love this book and I've barely dug into it. I look forward to putting my rigid heddle loom through its paces.
- Maroon and green "young adult mohair" locks from Wellington Farms (Elora, Ontario): I think I'll mix this in with some DorsetX eventually to spruce it up and keep it interesting.
- Sock Blockers from In the Loop, I think.
- Alpaca roving from the very nice couple from Quebec, enough to make a pair of socks if I spin it sock weight.
- Porceline pansy buttons, can't remember from where.

It was my first Knitter's Frolic. I only went for the shopping, and then primarily because I had arranged to pick up an order from Gemini Fibres there, but it was fun. The TTC strike allowed me to build up a little car-ma (HA!), and I got to meet LittleMousling and IndigoDragonfly, both from Ravelry.

I think the thing I liked the most about the frolic seeing so many local shops, farms and craftspeople. The selection was great. I hear they're planning to expand, and are looking for a larger venue in the future. I can't wait.

I also ran into a friend I hadn't seen for years - turning around to the sound of my name and seeing Nancy was the best part of the day. We first became acquainted through a cross-stitch BB many years ago (my email archive says June 1999, Nancy! Um, does that deserve a "woah"?), and there we both were at the Knitter's Frolic, buying spinning supplies! There was much co-enabling: I encouraged her with the spindles and roving at Gemini Fibres and Black Lamb, she did the same for me at the woodworker-button guy, and now I have a Niddy-Noddy that I wouldn't be without. Our pocketbooks are lighter, but it was good, solid enabling, the kind that stash hoards are built on. Because what are knitter/stitcher/spinning friends for?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Does the TTC feel the love yet?

This is bound to offend everyone in one way or another, which is probably why it made me laugh.

I will only say this once: I do not dispute the transit workers' right to strike. But seriously - was there any reason the union couldn't have sat on the vote results and waited two more hours, until the end of subway service Friday night, to call the strike? And in so doing not stranded thousands of people downtown at midnight on the second warm Friday night of the year? Was there a really good reason why they absolutely had to shut down public transit with 90 minutes notice, considering that the "angry and irrational public" they were so concerned about facing wouldn't have known any better if they had just kept their collective mouths shut for 90 more minutes? Forget that they promised 48 hours notice. But 90 minutes? Announced at 10:30 pm, when people who get up early to work on a Saturday are already, wisely, asleep?

Any reason other than someone at the union must have lost their minds?

Didn't think so.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I have pokey sticks. Do you have pokey sticks?

These skewer-like objects were in the far back corner of backyard. I like how they're arranged so... jauntily.

With this last week of actual spring weather, our backyard is at last alive. Let's give a warm welcome to the very first flowers brave enough to open:

I feel like they should get an award or something.

A few days later, the small tulip patch revealed itself to be...

...happily yellow!

The magnolia tree is flowering nicely, and should be in its full glory of pinkness in a couple days:

I don't care if the blooms go away in a week, I love it.

My mother-in-law has identified the two types of bushes along the sides of the yard. There is forsythia down both sides, and what she assures me are lilacs along the left, closest to the house. The forsythia is mostly open and it's pretty, I suppose, but I haven't completely decided if I like it or not.

The lilacs could be a problem. I'm one of those weird people who strongly dislike the smell of lilacs. I think this is because from age 7 to 13, I had to catch the schoolbus at Oh-My-God-O'Clock from the end of my neighbour's driveway in the shadow - and smell - of their untamable lilac bush (which is still there over 25 years later, I kid you not. Even my Dad's backhoe couldn't kill it. The thing is a beast). I personally relocated our bus stop two driveways up the road in my teens because of that thing. Lilacs remind me of early morning ickiness, long bus rides on bumpy roads during which I always became motion-sick, and having to constantly duck flying insects. The smell still makes me mildly queasy and I sneeze a lot.

Lilacs getting ready to bloom, with magnolia in the background. That bright yellow sticking out over there is one of the forsythia bushes.

However, we're leaving everything in place this year so that we can see what all is here before passing judgement. It's all lived here longer than we have, after all. If we decide to dig anything out eventually, I have people who will take them.

There are also still some unknowns. For instance, I'm not certain about the identity of the tree along the right back fence. It needs pruning and is beginning to do battle with the magnolia:

Any ideas?

There is also a small patch of daffodils and a couple other probably-flower things I'm not sure about. I'm about half done with the raking after several hours last weekend. The yard was covered by at least one season's layer of leaves and pine cones, among other things:

Evidence of a neighbourhood cat. I've already seen one, wonder if that's who got this bird?

I've also dug out five lengths of old copper pipe, a piece of siding, quite a bit of plastic and a rawhide dog bone. There are a lot of rocks, including what looks like an attempt at a stone pathway that is partly buried and partly removed. The previous owners' dog also liked to dig holes. There is little to no grass.

But there are pokey sticks. Daniel says if someone breaks into our backyard, we can at least poke them with pointy, rusted pieces of metal. Maybe I'll arrange them around the indigo vat, which I plan to store in the back corner of the yard, as far away from civilization as possible.

Overall, I think this yard thing is going to be fun.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Am I... blue?

Have you ever seen the "This Little Piggy" episode of Justice League Unlimited where Batman is forced to sing to save Wonder Woman?

It still makes me laugh. I am so easily amused.

At any rate, last Saturday started off perfectly normal, and continued as such, until the following conversation:

Bridget: (suddenly changing subject) I hate to say this, but I'm going to need containers to collect urine.
Daniel: (not missing a beat) You know, this is a dark, dark road we're going down...

I want to start a fermentation indigo vat. The old-fashioned kind. Now that I have ample backyard space, I'm thinking, why not?

Why not indeed. Never mind the smell, the chance of scaring our neighbours, attracting the wrong type of critters to my yard and confirming for all the world that I am full-on batshit crazy - did I mention the smell? My understanding is that however bad I think it will be, it will be worse. Bad enough that it could be used in a Klingon Rite of Ascension. I can hear it now:

"DaHjaj SuvwI'e' jiH.
[Today I am a warrior.]

tIgwIj Sa'angNIS.
[I must show you my heart.]

Iw bIQtIq jIjaH.
[I travel the river of blood.]


Wait a minute, that's not... eeew."

Here's a great story about a urine indigo vat in Toronto. She is totally my hero.

Really, I'm not into dyeing. Not a bit. Not really my thing. This need - yes, need for an indigo vat comes because some friends and I require a nice, naturally-dyed forest green for a maybe-not-still-secret-but-I-should-check-first-before-blurting-everything project.

As part of this ongoing quest, I tried a recommendation and dyed some of the DorsetX with carrot tops. Another friend tried it unmordanted, and got an olivey-greenish-brown. I decided to test it in combination with copper sulfate as a mordant. On the left is some mordanted wool, on the right, the results of the carrot top dyebath:

Not exactly the green we're looking for, but interesting, in a brown sort of way

I've been researching other options for green. Spinach? Tried and failed. I missed a massive pear leaf pruning at a neighbour's house last fall by a day. There are plenty of things that will give olives and brown-greens, but it seems nothing comes close to giving the strong, bright, colourfast green we're looking for better than overdyeing a good indigo blue with yellow (or hopefully, vice-versa). And the most well-known, time honoured, tried-and-true natural dye combination for this: indigo and weld. I already have some weld-dyed yellow from last fall.

The oldest, and a very historically accurate, way of reducing indigo is in a fermentation vat using urine: "the Good Old Sig Vat" (as per Liles 1990: 82). Yes, there are other methods. Methods that don't make me sound quite as nuts. Methods that don't smell anywhere near as badly. But we're going for historical here, preferably pre-1600.

So really: how much choice do I have? The need is great. I have indigo and recipes. And, I have plenty of the crucial ingredient needed to reduce it.

Sigh. How bad can it smell, really? (Please don't answer that.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Time to Spin, Part 9: Random Acts of Plying, and Musings on Pink

In an effort to reduce my expanding collection of singles and make some yarn that might be usable and stronger, I've been doing some plying. I started with the first singles I spun last year, from the first bag of roving I ever bought, plied with some of the DorsetX:

The plying setup, in which the niddy-noddy is demonstrated to be a multi-use tool

What Daniel called the "Strawberry Shortcake yarn," so I now call "Berry Berry Nice":

He named it, he can't un-name it!

I'm enthralled by the stunning pinkness of it all, which is odd, because there is so little pink in my life. Well, not now. I used to like pink. In fact, I was very into pink as a little girl. At age 6, I made my parents paint my bedroom walls pink. I moved out of that room and it became an office while I was in high school, but the pink stayed on a few more years, until after I moved away to university. I have it on good authority that it took several coats of paint to cover the pink.

A stint as the Cheshire Cat in a school play at age ten, combined with a love of all things Cyndi Lauper, meant that my pink phase continued well into my teens. The brighter the better, and when combined with purple, I was a force to be reckoned with.

At some point, it appears that I systematically removed pink from my wardrobe and accessories. When I bought a pink blouse a couple years ago, a friend immediately commented that it was strange to see me in that colour - "not that it looks bad or anything, it looks good! But it's surprising for you, that's all." My husband said something similar.

How did this happen? I can't remember exactly when the anti-pink phase started, but it must have been around high school, when I moved out of my pink room and declared that the title of my autobiography would be My Bridesmaids Will Not Wear Pink.

So sure was I that I designed to keep this declaration intact by avoiding bridemaids altogether. Daniel and I both had a best man, or whatever you would call it when the person who stands for the bride is a guy. We had the word once - the male version of "matron"? Anyhow, my friend Mike, who knew of my declaration, surprised me by wearing pink suspenders in my honour. He's a dear soul, I wish him many fat children.

I guess I've begun to soften my position on pink the last few years. Pink blouse. Pink roving and yarn. Since I've been experimenting with dyeing wool red and discovered how easy it is to get pink with natural dyes (cochineal and brazilwood in particular), pink has, for me, lost some of the "girly" association which has been part of my social conditioning since birth.

I find rebellion against such social conditioning to be an odd and confusing thing: When I recently saw someone describe a colour as "a screaming pink only a little girl and her mother could love," I thought, "Aw, it's not that bad," as if the fact that the mother and daughter would like it made it the wrong shade of pink or something, and if it were a shade of pink that they wouldn't like, that would make it acceptable. Whatever.

I have come to respect the pink. Into everyone's life, a little pink must come. As my parents will tell you (three coats later), pink is persistent. Pink endures.

After all, when red fades, you don't get "light red," right?

Now, if I could only figure out how I'm going to use this yarn. It's so.... pink.

Monday, April 14, 2008

To bead or not to bead

The last couple squares of the super-secret joint knitting project are finished, and all my squares have been delivered to the team crocheter for assembly. It was a relief to do a colour other than orange. To see what I mean, see the end of the March 25th post. In total, I made 10 squares of orange butterflies and 2 purple... somethings (seriously, they barely pass for what they're supposed to be, and naming it would totally give away what it's for), in New Bernat Satin:

The purl stitches do make a picture in there, but don't bother trying to figure it out!

Last Monday, I got to do something ultra-cool. I have a friend who makes very nice lampwork beads. She was teaching a class the previous weekend, so she still had everything for the class together on Monday evening. Being generally awesome, she re-did the class for a small group of us. I got to I made a real, live lampwork bead. With real, live fire and everything.


While I normally agree with the Buffy-ism "Fire bad, tree pretty," in this case I have to make an exception. Fire very, very good. I chose a clear yellow for the base colour, and an opaque purple for the dots. It came out miraculously round, for my first bead, and the dots are nice and evenly spaced. I like beads with a little texture, so I left the dots a little bumpy and didn't melt them down all the way.

My first bead, which now resides proudly in my little magpie box of small shiny things

I am taking my friend's advice and probably not going to use my first bead for anything. It is doing enough work just being My First Bead.

Someday, perhaps, when I am bored with spinning and knitting and weaving and dyeing and planting things in my yard that I can chop up and boil with wool and turn it pretty colours, and - well, I won't count sewing since it's more a necessity than a hobby and I don't enjoy it all that much - and after I've done some calligraphy and illumination that passes for more than 'adequate,' and on a day when I don't feel like playing music... Someday when I am ready to take on a nice, new, potentially expensive hobby, I will remember how enthralling it was to stand by the flame holding the sticks of glass into it, turning, turning, always turning to keep the heat even, watching the glass slowly melt and become drippy and orange then wrap around the metal and congeal into a little ball of shiny goodness.

Oh yes, I will remember. I have so many hobbies already, I couldn't possibly take on another, especially one like this, right now. But it's nice to know that I Have Made A Bead, and It Is Good.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Time to Spin, Part 8: Dead plants, just in time for spring

Now that we're mostly settled in to the house, I'm starting to root through my spinning stash, which has been packed up too long. Since I have way too much wool (DorsetX, anyone? I have 2.5 full fleece here...), I was able to walk past most raw fleece I came across last year with a clear head and conscience. Overall I've done well at not accumulating more raw fleece. Agreed, I had a lapse a couple weeks ago, with that little bit of Romni I found, but it hardly smells at all, so I don't really think it counts, right?

This does not mean that I haven't continued to accumulate spinning stash, oh no. The Pennsic plant-fibre haul from Brush Creek Wool Works is finally about to see the light of day:

There is bamboo top...

...and flax top...

...and hemp!

Honestly, I don't know how to spin any of this. It will be a learning experiment this spring. I know the flax will spin up smoother if I spin wet, and I assume the hemp is similar.

In the meantime, I've broken in the Forrester Turkish spindle with some green eucalyptus-dyed-tin-mordanted wool, also from BCWW. This spindle spins like a dream. It might be the fastest and longest-spinning spindle I have.

I was right, the spindle does look even better with yarn on it

I want to make it a tradition of buying one bag of naturally-dyed roving from BCWW every year. In '06 it was the Brazilwood-tin-mordanted pink wool that became my very first spinning, so I feel like they're a big part of my spinning history. Even if I don't get to their booth in-person some year, I will try to have someone pick something up for me to keep up the tradition. Of course, it helps that they have wonderful stuff.

During the early fall dyeing adventures, only the first of which I have documented so far, I had reason to order cochineal as well as alum, copper, tin and iron mordants from various places. At the same time, I ordered several spare heddles for my loom in preparation for a related group project that is still in the planning stages. Somewhere among all that ordering, a few other things found their way into my cart:

a Strauch flick carder that will come in handy for some of this fleece, I think

Indigo Hound four-pitch English combs, with accessories

These combs came with the base, wood rods to hold the combs in place on the base, a PVC diz (not pretty, but it does the job), covers for the Very Sharp Teeth, and I think those metal rods are doffers, to clean leftovers from between the Very Sharp Teeth. There is also an intelligently written instruction booklet with a lot of good tips and information, including amusing but important points like: [Remember to] comb with the teeth pointed away from you and anyone else. The object is to comb the fiber and not yourself.

The wooden vice-grip thing in the left of the picture is a base for my single-pitch viking combs. It came with the small c-clamp, but it really needs two clamps to hold it firmly. A trip to Lee Valley solved that problem pretty quick.

And before I realized that the combs came with a diz, I had already ordered this one:

A nice metal diz for pulling roving off of combs

Bad clicky finger. Bad.

I want to wait for warmer weather and set up the English combs in the backyard to tackle the remainder of the DorsetX. I anticipate veggie matter flying everywhere. Whee, fun!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hanging on by a thread

At long last, the weaving pictures. I've been wanting to post about this new excitement since I started it last August, but couldn't easily get all the pictures until I was ready to take things off the loom, and that wasn't going to happen until I finished the warp that was on there, or took it off because something else took precedence. I finally finished the warp last week.

The highlight of last Pennsic for me was the rigid heddle weaving classes taught by The Dread Viscountess Seelie. Three samplers from three classes, and I am hooked. Needless to say, I came home with a 20" Beka rigid heddle loom. I'm big on portability.

My loom, and the three samplers

The thing I most appreciated about these classes was that we started the first day by taking the new looms out of their boxes and assembling them - no pre-warped looms here. We learned to measure a warp and warp the looms, which is, frankly, one of the most daunting and crucial things to learn from an experienced weaver. It also sometimes takes as long or longer than the actual weaving, if you're only weaving a little sampler.

With more people than looms, we teamed up on warping looms to make it go faster. This provided several perfect hours of chatting and making friends with people while working across a loom from them, pulling and catching up warp threads, the strains of morning musical warm-ups providing a soundtrack. We all felt very much like we were doing something that women have been doing for centuries: "This morning we'll warp your loom, tomorrow we'll do mine..." I find that kind of connection deeply comforting.

The warps were long enough for a couple people to make samplers. This meant many people didn't finish their samplers before the (half to full-day) classes were over, so the instructor had a work table set up at her shop for people to continue working that day or later in the week.

In the first class, we made a simple even-weave colour sampler.

Second class was another even-weave sampler, this time learning to manipulate the warp with various types of open-work and inlay techniques. It was not unlike doing hardanger, which I have some experience with. I confirmed that I am not exactly a natural at wrapped thread work - I fight with it, screw it up several times, cuss profusely and in several languages... but it is so very pretty in the end.

Finally, the third class, which was the one I was really looking forward to, though the first two were absolutely necessary before tackling this. We learned to warp up a loom with three heddles and a fourth set of warp threads that float. It's possible, using combinations of raising or lowering heddles together, to weave four-harness patterns on the rigid heddle loom. So we did a couple twills (3/1, 2/2), tabby weave with moorman inlay, and various double weaves (tube, open on one side, open both sides).

This is seriously cool. I've become particularly enamoured with the double weaves. Weave two pieces of fabric at the same time, or a double-width piece? I am all over that. The double weave samples are the blue section at the top. You'll just have to trust me that the top is two separate pieces, the next couple inches down are open on one side, and the bottom couple inches are an enclosed tube.

While I "finished" the third sampler at Pennsic, I didn't finish tying it off with... whatever that stitch it called, I can never remember. So I technically only finished the third sampler last week. And since it's a shame to waste perfectly good warp, I used the last foot or so to do some more tube double-weave. The idea was that this would become a draw-string bag or something, but I don't think it's tall enough, and I ran out of warp. Whatever. It was good practice. Maybe some day I'll enter it into one of those "seemed like a good idea at the time: failed A&S projects" displays, those are fun.

The lovely rosewood comb sticking out is a multi-use weaving accessory. The husband of the weaving teacher makes and sells them in their merchant tent, 'Stitch, Weave and Burn (and Some Crap My Husband Made).' Everyone agrees, he makes good crap.

My plan this year is to take whatever classes she offers - she mentioned that she was hoping to do a class on recreating a some archeological textile patterns. I would be all over that, if she does it. In the coming months, I will have a not-so-secret project on the loom, but we're still working out all the details. As in, the wool still needs to be dyed, carded and spun, and we've been waiting for spring, which is finally beginning to show itself, to do the dyeing outside.

I was down at my parents' last weekend, so I made the short detour down Currie Road, ten minutes from home and on the way to and from the highway. I had wanted to drive up to the top of Mt. Eislinn, across the road from the campground (which is closed until May), and take some quick pictures while there were still no leaves on the trees to block the view. I decided against that - we had several preceding days of rain and I'm not yet comfortable enough in my new-to-me car to know how it would handle on the muddy dirt road up the hill. There were also three people on horseback coming down the hill, so I decided not to bother them or the horses by ungracefully trumbling by them in the car. Perhaps next time, if the weather is nicer, Dad will take me up on the motorcycle.

In the meantime, I did snap this picture of the (Shadowclans?) cathedral facade from the road (this is approximately outside the north gate, if you're familiar with the area). I knew it was was stored on-site, but I didn't realize it would still be up. I guess it's usually been hidden behind foilage when I've been by in the past. Right now it looks like a beautiful old ruin standing in a lonely field in the modern world.

There's a new Pilot truck stop at the intersection of I-79 and 422. It wasn't there when I was last down in the fall. It has a McDonald's and a Subway, among the other truck stop normalities (showers, supplies, gas). Civilization continues to encroach upon my childhood. I'll take fries with that.

Monday, April 07, 2008

No regrets

This past weekend was rough. I had to make a short trip to PA for the funeral of a woman I loved dearly, though I can count the number of times I saw her in the last 20 years on one hand. I couldn't possibly explain the reason for that here - family "situations" are never as simple face-to-face as they seem from a distance, and I have been at a distance for a while - but though neither she or I were the reason, we bore its results, and a year became two, then five, then ten and more before I held her beautiful old hands and laughed with her again.

There was regret at one time, yes, on both our parts, but we came to terms with that together, the last time I saw her. There was never blame, and there was always forgiveness and love. She knew and understood completely, and that's all that matters to me.

Dorothy Moon was strong, wise, creative, gracious and loving. A word from her could make me smile and laugh without fail. She took bullshit from no one, standing her ground with firm kindness. She was a mother to all. She was a teacher, every day. She was one of the dwindling links to the really good parts of my childhood, before things became complicated. She was part of who I am, and I learned more from her by everyday example than I will probably ever realize.

I love you, Grandma. Be at peace.