Not a lot of making going on

So, for the past few weeks, there hasn’t been a whole lot of making. This has meant that there really hasn’t been all that much to post here. Also, I’ve been crap lately at actually taking pictures, but hopefully at least one of them I have managed to take will make up for that.

I’ve been working on my socks. The second one was well on it’s way to completion after knitting it up a second time, so I ripped out the first one and started that one over. That one, as of yesterday, is now nearing completion. Soon I’ll have another pair of socks I can wear. Woo!

The Gothic Cross shawl is finished and has been tested out – it’s warm, but not overly so. It provides me with a snuggly alternative to wearing a coat in the office when the air conditioning is on (which it really hasn’t because although it’s June, and we put the air conditioners in the windows, the temperature has really been in the “England” zone of “New England”). Everyone who’s seen it in person has commented on the softness and the (extreme) length, all in a positive way.

I have been doing yard work every moment I’m home and it isn’t raining, which, if you live in the northeastern United States, you know is not as often as I’d like. There’s been raking, leaf blowing, brush hauling, tree felling (small ones), branch cutting…wash, rinse, repeat.

When I’m not outside, I’ve been tidying inside, trying to tame the making sprawl in the house. The fleeces are all washed and put away in new bins. I’ve tidied up some errant yarn that I’d bought on sale for knitting sweaters later on. There was a spare bin (after some reorganizing) for filling with weaving yarns. (After filling that, I determined that I cannot buy any more weaving yarn until I start selling stuff!) And I’ve been making pants for my friend. She sent me a box of several fabrics a while ago, which is now rapidly being washed, dried, cut, and sewn into pants. I’m very happy with how they’re coming out!

The foxes trot more often through the backyard these days. There are a bunch of new martins flying around. The owls have been hooting – I’ve not seen them lately, and was worried that they’d flown away, but I’ve decided they’re busy raising little owlets.

I can’t wait to have time to get back to weaving! The embroidery bug has lurking on the horizon as well. I can feel it watching me with its beady little eyes. The mosquitoes and black flies are out, so spoon carving will have to wait a bit.

Let’s see…oh! I participated in the MA Sheep & Woolcraft fair over Memorial Day weekend as the weaver in a fleece to shawl competition (though, because there were no other teams, it was billed as a demo). I had forgotten to bring a measuring ribbon with me, but knew I’d put on extra warp, so we all decided that I’d weave until the end. This meant that instead of the required 2 yards, we accidentally produced a shawl 120″ long (plus fringe). Oops. The spinners did a terrific job supplying me with yarn! Lots of kids and parents showed up, we talked with them and answered questions, so over all it was a successful demo.

Over this past weekend, I also got to hang with my nieces, which was thrilling beyond description. I hadn’t seen them in about seven years, and even then it was never a real visit, just a brief ‘hi’. Actually, the time I spent with them this weekend was the most time I’ve ever spent with them in my (and their) whole lives. Can’t wait to hang with them again! They’re growing up into really amazing people.

And now for some pictures:

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This poppy and a bunch of its friends nearby opened last week.

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Can you believe I took these with an iPhone? I can’t.

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I uncovered these guys while I was raking yesterday. They didn’t move a muscle, but I’m pretty sure they were just trying to blend in so as to not get eaten.

Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get the mundane stuff done soon so I can get back to the usual program.

Fringe learning

I didn’t quite get everything done this past weekend that I wanted. Something came up that required some worry and action, and that took time and energy away from the list of things I had planned. But. I did manage to get the Cheviot fleece just about finished up (the last batch is soaking), chores done, a crap-ton of yard work done, and, because I was feeling crappy and needed a mindless yet productive thing to do on Sunday, I got my shawl woven and off the loom.

It’s not perfect—I made an error about an inch before the end, but didn’t notice until after it was off because it was on the reverse side—but it’s lovely cloth and I got lots of practice squeezing the weft into place. I somehow didn’t plan out how I was going to finish the fringe, which I should have done before even putting the warp on, so the rest has been making stuff up on the fly.

Every time I weave a project that’s even slightly different from what I have been weaving, I learn something. This project was very different, so I learned a lot of stuff.

But it’s huge. In a three-yard-plus-long sort of way. It’s a shawl for a tall person with enough length to (I think) drape gracefully around arms and fall down to (possibly) my knees, but I haven’t tried it on yet, so that’s just speculation. The next step is to deal with the fringe so I can then full the cloth, then I’ll have a better idea of how it’s going to work/fall/drape. For the moment, all I can really say is that the fringe is a project unto itself. Thirty inches wide at 516 yarns across, two bundles of two to be twisted together and knotted.

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Section of finished twisted fringe.

So that’ll be going on for a while. In between, I hope to get to some trouser creation, which some of the unexpected and unwanted worry and excitement of the weekend took away from. Sigh. Twisting fringe is a good, quiet, non-thinking activity, though, and I feel like I could use some of that for a bit.

Some of you have asked what this spoon carving thing was all about, and you asked to see the tools. Behold!

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Left to right: hatchet, hook knife, whittling knife and sheath.

I have wanted to learn how to carve wood for literally decades. And when I saw the spoon guy’s tent at the Ashfield Fall Festival (every October in Ashfield, MA. There is a guy who sells spoons that he carves—he has hundreds of all shapes and sizes!) about 15 or so years ago, I decided that spoons would be a really good place for me to start. Now I have a place to carve, the wood to carve, and the tools to carve with. Though, I think I won’t have time to start a spoon for a few weeks yet, but you never know.

For now, fringe and trousers.

(And of course, it’s going to get into the 80’s and 90’s this week, so shawl wearing may have to wait until….October. Sigh.)

A shawl for me

I needed to take a break from spinning (so much fleece—all spinning, all the time), and while I do need to get to the napkins and more dishtowels, I thought I’d take the plunge and weave myself a shawl. The yarn had gone on sale, I had the pattern I wanted, and since I’ve been feeling kind of down lately, I thought maybe making something for myself might help.

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Gothic Cross for 4 shaft loom. Charcoal grey and smoke grey, Jaggerspun Heather 2/8. This shawl will have fringe, but I haven’t decided if it’s to be knotted or twisted yet.

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My work table. Tea drunk, already spent two hours at the loom. Time to get to work.

This project, as predicted, is going fast, and I hope to have created momentum to get the warp for the napkins on the loom by the weekend. Alas, the weekend is already filling up: trousers to make, leaves to rake, branches to pile up, wood to split, house to clean, laundry to do, a couple of things in the house to fix, trash to go to the dump, fleece to wash (nearly done!), and if I have time, I’ll try to comb and spin more wool.

I got my spoon carving tools in the mail last week (thank you, tax returns), but it’s been raining every time I get a chance to go outside, so that project will have to wait for a bit. At least I have the tools!

I can’t think of a title today

This weekend was spent trying to finish some projects, start some projects, and make progress on (the usual) projects. Plus, yanno, doing something about that shirt pattern.

A bike ride happened! Mostly I was testing out the Bike Shorts Problem (I have wider-than-averagely-spaced seat bones, which creates frustration with bike saddles and the padding in bike shorts). The experiment involved just taking out one element (padding) and yielded very successful results, so I feel I’m nearly ready to start riding my bike to work. When it’s not raining. Because that’s a different problem. Anyway, the pictures  above were taken from the old railroad bridge, now part of the bike path, and show our beloved river, the mighty Connecticut, in her spring phase, which is to say high.

I spent some hours cutting down small trees and piling brush, which helps with the yard work project and the shirt-fitting project. Looooooooook!! Remember the red trillium I posted a picture of last week? It bloomed! Behold:

I also noticed some wee seedlings had sprouted, so the patch should be a bit larger next spring.

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I, uh, might have bought a box of Joe Joe’s (Trader Joe’s answer to Oreos) and it was for Thursday evening knitting group but everyone liked the chocolate chip chocolate sandwich cookies better and barely touched the Joe Joe’s and so I had to take them home again.

Whaaaat? I had to. I really did. Honest! Poor lonely cookies….

Of course that meant afternoon tea and cookies (and maybe evening cookies, too). I can report that tea and cookies may be essential to combing wool successfully. Further experimentation is required.

Over the course of last week, I filled another bobbin of plied yarn and wound it off into hanks. Five in all, which surprised me as I didn’t think I’d end up with that much yarn. I didn’t have the time to wet finish the yarn until the weekend, and when it was dry, I laid it all out on the floor to admire it.

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In the end, I decided there must be something like 800-1000 yards here. This is only 4 hanks.

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It’s not perfect – there’s a lot of variation – but I think it’s better than the last batch, and still suitable for weaving with. 420’s fleece may end up just as spinning and weaving practice, but that’s okay. The experience is really, really valuable.

And then, last night, I thought since the yarn was dry, I should probably weave a sample. Because this whole project has ultimately been about weaving.

It’s a bit nerve wracking to think about all the hours spent washing, combing, and spinning wool, and then think about weaving a sample. There’s waste when you weave, so much waste, that you try hard to mitigate it by weaving as much as possible at once. Because the waste is found at either end of the finished cloth, the more cloth you weave, the less waste-to-useable-cloth you get. To weave a sample is to waste maybe half your warp, and even if it’s only a yard long, in this case, it’s a yard of hand spun yarn. I’ve tried to come up with something to do with the waste, but haven’t had any luck—I did save the waste bits. If any of you have any ideas, please let me know! (I’m saving the cotton to make paper with eventually.)

I started with the smallest hank, which ended up being about 75 yards or so, and chose 8 ends per inch just because I had to start somewhere and that seemed about right.

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Once I got going, this was really exciting!

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I really, honestly expected the snap a warp thread, but I didn’t! The edges aren’t very good, but I think with some more experience, they’ll improve.

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Fresh off the loom! Not washed yet, which is really where the magic happens. This was stiff and coarse—it even looks stiff and coarse, and not like soft wool cloth. The color is off in this picture, it wasn’t nearly as brown as it looks – evening shot under warm colored lights.

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I love this picture. Clockwise, starting from top left: washed fleece; two combed nests; one two-ply skein; the woven sample, washed and dried.

The really amazing thing is that I tried hard to full that cloth, and couldn’t. I mean, it did full a bit, but not as much as I expected it would. I agitated it in both hot and very cold water for maybe five minutes with soap (which got rid of the extra lanolin and final residual dirt, which you can still see in the skein (there is so much washing with this wool), but the level of fulling that I expected didn’t happen.

I count this as very good information! While I likely can’t have a very thick and fuzzy blanket from this particular wool (probably), I can have a drapey shawl, cloth for maybe a coat that won’t felt easily when washed, and very possibly socks. Obviously, more experimentation is necessary. And that will be absolutely delightful!

I also fixed a skirt for a friend (finished – sorry, no pics!), and finally (I hope) came up with a napkin plan, complete with stripes and ends per inch etc (started). Jenny’s trousers were supposed to have been started—I did get out the fabrics and look at them, fitting that project into the list of present projects. Those’ll have to get made very soon.

OH! I nearly forgot. I’ve been asked to be the weaver in a sheep to shawl team at the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair! It’s one hell of an honor and I’m freaking out a bit. It’s possibly why I suddenly felt like I needed to weave some handspun. Practice, practice…because I hardly know what I’m doing. I’m really looking forward to hanging out with other Makers and seeing their skills, and participating in a super cool project!

Tonight, I’ll swing by Webs to buy some of my favorite wool yarn for more practice. Hopefully, I’ll have more pictures for you.

And, another thing I’m really looking forward to: spoon carving. Stay tuned!

Progress

I am making progress on the wool, on a knitting project I’d let drop for a while, and on some yard work.

The wool is taking top priority right now while the cool, relatively dry weather holds. Summers here are hot and humid, and since the house has no air conditioning, trying to work with lovely fine wool with sticky hands will yield a lot of small lumps in the roving and in the spun yarn. Generally, for three quarters of the year, working with wool is a very pleasant experience in this climate, but that last quarter is time that’s better spent doing something else that doesn’t include anything soft and fuzzy.

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Practice makes improvement! My yarn is becoming much more even.

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Two-ply skeins. These have not been washed yet, so they might change a bit when they are. These are, I believe, an improvement from the last two-ply skeins I’ve made. Still 420’s fleece! Finished up plying last night, and wound into skeins this morning before work.

Knitting can also be uncomfortable in the heat and humidity, so I’ve picked up my latest sock knitting project again—I think anyone who knits at all always has a small project like socks or mitts in progress. It’s the sort of thing that’s portable, usually doesn’t require a lot of thinking, and, now that it’s more socially acceptable these days, you can knit in public places without garnering stares and disapproving murmurs.

I had been more than halfway through this pair of socks, but after the last two pairs of socks I’d knit out of the same brand of wool began to felt—it is superwash wool and is not supposed to felt, but you’d be surprised at how often it happens anyway—and how they started to wear after only a few months, I decided that this will be the last pair knit from this brand of wool. They’ll also be knit with smaller needles so I get a more substantial, hard-wearing fabric. I’ve started washing all my hand knit socks in the sink now as there’s nothing so frustrating as spending time knitting a pair of socks, getting to wear them a handful of times, then discovering a pair of thick, stiff socks five sizes too small to get on your feet when you pull them out of the washer. I’m seriously thinking about knitting a pair out of non-superwash wool to see how they wear.

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The left is the original, the right is the new and improved. 14 sts per needle on the left, 18 sts per needle on the right. The stitches look a bit wonky, but that’ll straighten itself out once they’re washed.

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I’m not sure you can see the difference in stitch gauge here, but you sure can feel it. Left is the old sock, right is the new sock.

Yard work is happening! I stocked up on a couple of cans of permethrin to treat some clothes with so I could avoid getting bitten by ticks (I’d prefer not getting Lyme disease), got a couple of new bow saw blades, and pretty much went to town the last two weekends. The trees haven’t been managed in so many years that the undergrowth and tiny trees have pretty much taken over. Which is fine for a forest, but if there’s a house in the middle, you kind of want more airflow so the house (made of wood) doesn’t rot. Moss and mold love stagnant air and shade—it keeps in the moisture. So, I’ve been trimming dead branches where I can reach them, whacking down the hundreds of tiny conifers and some witch hazel, and trying to rake the leaves into some sort of organized piles so that I can try to grow grass where there once was grass.

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Look what I found! A Red Trillium. I’m now almost thinking I might find a ladyslipper somewhere in the yard too – it’s the right kind of area for them.

I’m also busy splitting wood that was cut at the beginning of this past winter. Still not quite done with that.

This past weekend also involved ideas about sewing a shirt. Since I have a non-average shape, I cannot find button down shirts off the rack that really fit. If they fit my arms in length, the body is way too wide and the shoulders droop. If they fit my bosom, the shoulders are way too wide, and the armscyes are cut much too large (as if I had really giant upper arms). If it fits my torso length, it won’t fit my bosom or my hips. The solution to this problem is to just sew my own shirt, right?

I’ve been working on this for literally years. First, with no pattern drafting experience, I tried to draft my own pattern from scratch. This was followed by much frustration and throwing the pattern and resulting muslins in a corner for some unspecified amount of time in which I’d forget what I’d actually done to make me so frustrated. Then, I bought a couple of patterns, tried to alter them, make several muslins, got frustrated, threw it all in a corner. Months (or years) later, I’d try it all over again, sometimes trying to draft my own pattern, sometimes trying to alter an existing pattern, and sometimes trying to copy a shirt that actually did fit (there’s been only one). And then, I found the Granville Shirt Pattern.

The heavens sang with joy! I cut it out and, of course, tinkered with it. I had to learn to do a full bust adjustment and was delighted to discover that it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought—got it right on the first try! The sleeves of this pattern are longer than average to begin with, the hips just right, and only the shoulders needed some extra tweaking. I’d stopped tinkering just as I was about to add the shoulder tweaks to the muslin I’d made, and then something distracted me. My dressform adorned with said muslin stood quietly in the corner. Months passed.

Fall became winter. Winter became spring.

This past weekend, I decided to just make a damned shirt with no shoulder tweaks and no sleeve tweaks. Just the already incorporated FBA, and go. Man, I want a shirt that fits. (I actually can’t afford to buy clothes at the moment, but have a pile of fabric that I’ve been adding to over the years just for shirts I’d make someday.)

It turns out that even three months of intensive weaving, wool combing, spinning, and the odd bout of knitting, plus a full time job sitting in front of a computer and making phone calls does not actually burn calories in the way one hopes it might. (Especially if there is chocolate present.)

I got out some nice linen, ironed it up, got out all the pattern pieces, plucked all the pins out of the muslin, and tried it on just to make sure. And realized that that muslin is now one, possibly two sizes too small. Needless to say, the muslin was carefully put back on the dressform, and the whole project was shoved into a corner to be very pointedly ignored for a while.

Sigh.

So, the agenda for the next few months will include several bouts per week of walking, riding a bicycle, and perhaps lifting heavy things and putting them down again. If I’m feeling extra zippy, kayaking and running might happen, too. Which is also to say that some crafturgency will have to be moved slightly to one side. Well, exercise is, after all, good for you and improves quality of life. Also, I refuse to have to cut out another, larger size of the damned pattern.

I still plan on selling handmade things, but have not yet got my ducks in a row. In the meantime, the nearest goal post is getting as much wool processed and spun as possible before the humidity comes.

 

 

Wool pillow

I finished my new pillow!

By 9pm yesterday, I was so close to getting the rest of the wool carded, I figured I’d just stay up and finish so at least I could sleep on my new pillow.

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Adventures in carding. Card card card card card card….

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Stuffing all the fluffy, clean wool into the pillow. You can see the different levels of beat on the two ends of the cloth.

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Done! Sewn up! Not so thick, but I tend to like flat pillows. And this is a prototype of sorts anyway.

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Done! Isn’t it beautiful? Okay, maybe not so beautiful, but I slept beautifully on it. The next one will consist of a more colorful cloth.

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Lee gave me handknit socks! Aren’t they gorgeous???

Craft Hydrogen

Sustainably harvested, organically produced, free-range, cage-free hydrogen, carefully and humanely separated from the oxygen atoms in water molecules.

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See those bubbles? The ones on the left are bubbles of hydrogen, the ones on the right are oxygen bubbles. The bubbles in this picture were produced with a hand crank by me and a couple of people after we’d eaten a nice supper and had really delicious cake and cookies. (So, does that mean the dessert made the bubbles? Hmm.) Later bubbles (not pictured) were made with the help of a car battery and jumper cables. The hand crank was hard work!

The object of this was two-fold: to do a science experiment that I had never done in high school (my high school was deficient in…well, just deficient), and to allow me to actually make my own water. Because of course my whole modus operandi is to get to basic principles and try to make the materials for from scratch things from scratch. And then those more basic materials from scratch, and so on. It’s really turtles all the way down, and I really want to see how many turtles I can discover on the way down. But you know what? I got to see water separated out into its constituent atoms, then apply a flame (okay, I wasn’t the one with the flame actually) to recombine the hydrogen atoms with free-range oxygen atoms to create my own water! Which is exactly what happened, even though it was in such small amounts, we didn’t actually see any water, but that’s how the chemistry works.

(I want to build one of these myself and hook a bicycle up to it! MOAR hydrogen! Moar artisanally made water!)

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I still don’t have pictures of my pillow in progress, but this is the cloth left over. It’s on the large side for a napkin on its own – being about 21″ square – and I’m not at all sure about the weird diagonal texture that’s developed, but it gives me hope for way more colorful plain weave cloth and napkin potential! (And look at those not-at-all-bad selvedges!) Stay tuned. I’m developing a color plan.

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I finally got to the end of a whole bobbin! And let me tell you, these bobbins are huge.

So, what’s going on in that picture? Well, swapping out bobbins is a giant PIA, so I came up with a quick and easy way to wind the yarn onto a cardboard bobbin using my cordless drill (yay, multitasker!). It also means I don’t have to buy more wooden bobbins at the moment when I can buy was less expensive cardboard bobbins.

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And here are two almost totally full cardboard bobbins. WHEW. That took a lot of hours. But, my yarns are getting more even, and I’m getting a bit faster, so I have hopes for getting through these fleeces sometime this year. (ha!) Seriously, this yarn didn’t even leave a dent in 421’s fleece. You can’t even tell. SO. MUCH. WOOL. STILL.

I’ll ply these two bobbins and we’ll see how even my spinning really was. If the resulting two-ply ends up curling up on itself after its soak in hot water, then I’ve not quite nailed it. But if it’s nice and smooth, then I’ll have very workable yarn!

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And look! I’ve had another visitor!

This is the third time I’ve seen a fox in the back yard in the last couple of months. I kind of hope they stick around, though I have noticed a distinct lack of chipmunks, squirrels, and, dare I say, mice, so the food sources might be getting a little thin. The Barred owls have stuck around – I’ve heard them hooting in the woods behind my neighbour’s house, so there might be some competition for the foxes. Well, in any case, I consider myself lucky: up until this year, I’d only seen a fox once in my life, and he or she was running away into the woods at top speed as I was driving past. Maybe this spring I’ll be lucky enough to see kits. Here’s hoping!