Unexpected things. Mostly brown.

This past weekend was full of unexpected things. But good unexpected things.

I did not know there were going to be house guests, but breakfast out was really nice! We went to a local cafĂ© on a farm down the road from us. The building is a strawbale construction, a simple design, with rustic decor. The food is tasty and plentiful. And the owners know my friends (of course). During the course of chatting with the owners, I happened to look out one of the side windows and noticed a walnut tree laden with nuts, so at an appropriate moment in the conversation, I changed topics and asked about their tree. Would it be possible to collect some of the walnuts I had seen on the ground? I wanted to make a dye. Of course! was the answer. The one tree I had seen turned out to be part of four trees. I was given a small paper bag and after we’d finished, I went outside and around the corner to the walnuts. And lo! there I saw so many walnuts. In fact, I’d never seen so many walnuts, and I wanted all of them. However, not knowing how many I’d actually need to making dye, I happily filled my paper bag and asked if I could come back if I needed more. The owners were more than happy to oblige. I can come get as many as I like. Woohoo!

(Sadly, I did not get a picture of the trees.)

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I counted them – about 60. But I had to toss a few that ended up being full of worms.

I must say, black walnuts smell delightful. The hulls have a sort of earthy citrusy fragrance that makes me so happy. I can’t quite adequately explain it.

The hulls will also stain your hands brown like crazy. We got home, and I put the rest of my day’s plans aside for a few hours so I could peel the hulls from the nuts – the hulls are used for making dye. The shells are too, but if I’m going to use the shells, I want to save the nutmeats, so I spent time separating everything into two buckets.

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Nuts in the left bucket. Hulls in the right. Unexpected fun with walnuts!

Most of the instructions I found online made it seem like getting the nut out of the hull was really hard and that I needed to drive over them, whack them with the claw of a hammer, or find a mallet and whack them until they yielded the nut. None of that was necessary. I got a steak knife and just ran the blade around each walnut, neatly dividing the hull into two hemispheres. Then a twist released one hemisphere, and if it didn’t, then one more cut to divide a hemisphere in two did the trick. It was a bit reminiscent of pitting all those peaches I canned a while ago.

So, the staining. Because black walnut hulls have so much tannin in them, they stain things pretty permanently – the tannin is the mordant. Cloth, skin, any natural fiber…brown. All the sources I found online told me to wear heavy rubber gloves. I didn’t have any, but I did have some disposable food service gloves at hand.

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Yeah. So, all this brown? Still got through, and my forefinger and thumb are a bit brown.

I got them all hulled! But what to do with them then? Most instructions say to simmer them for an hour or so, but I do not want to have an accident in the house and stain the kitchen. It is not my kitchen after all. So, I’m trying what I think is a far more likely historical recipe (even though I have no proof at all): I’m soaking the hulls in that bucket in water for a couple of weeks. Then I’ll strain everything and maybe might see if I can find an outdoor cooking arrangement so I can simmer it and kill any mold that might have formed. Or not. Maybe I’ll put some in quart sized mason jars for later.

This dye is also apparently an excellent wood stain! I loves me a multitasking thing I can make! So, after a little experimentation with some wood scraps and some research, I may do any final prep and put some in jars for my woodworking friends. (And I am filing this knowledge away for later when I want to build bookcases for whatever house I end up with!)

I’ve got a couple of white skeins of two ply yarn I’ve spun – one skein I really have to run through the wheel again to give it some extra twist. And I have so much more white (Down breeds blend) that could be dyed with local black walnut dye handmade by me. The dyeing process itself is apparently super easy. You simply put the yarn or cloth in the dye and leave it there until it’s brown. If simmering it, I think you simmer for something like 30 mins to 1 hour. I will likely try just soaking it for a day and see what happens. (I do have to look into some sort of outdoor cooking equipment, though…)

I was also thinking of dyeing some bamboo rayon yarn and/or cotton yarn for weaving cloth or towels or something. Because why not?

But, don’t you need more walnuts for dyeing all that stuff? I hear you ask. It turns out, everyone seems to agree that you only need 12-15 walnuts per gallon of water. For just the hulls. So I have 4 gallons of the stuff. That’s a LOT of dye. Even 2 gallons is a lot if some of the water is supposed to be lost in cooking it. I am planning on also getting the shells, which apparently yield a darker brown. (Of course, that may not work, but I will try.)

 

I filled up the bucket with the hulls with water. I’ve set it in the garage with a piece of wood on top to soak for a while. The bucket with the nuts got filled with water, and I started scrubbing the remaining hull gunk off. I had read that the gunk could rot and mold and make a mess, but most importantly, it would dye your hands dark brown. I don’t feel like walking around with dark brown hands and having to explain that I have been playing with dye everywhere I go, so I elected to scrub. The two floaters were thrown away – I suspect if they float, there’s probably a problem with them.

I got about half scrubbed before I ran out of time and energy. So I drained out the water, put a tiny bit in so the ones that were left were only barely covered, and set those in the garage too to wait until I have some time to resume scrubbing. I’m hoping the soak will help to soften up the remaining gunk.

The real work to this project is going to be actually cracking the nuts. A quick read about black walnuts online seems to show that I’ll need to use a vice as a regular nut cracker will not do it at all. Woo.

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Excuse the messy counter – my first attempt at waffle production!

I also unexpectedly found an as-yet-unused, brand-new-in-the-box, three-year-old electric waffle iron in the house! Of course I tried making waffles. This is the first time I’ve tried making waffles. It was an adventure. Definitely an unexpected adventure.

I thought I’d double the recipe, because ultimately, I wanted waffles in the freezer that could be toasted in the toaster for near-instant waffle goodness. But then I accidentally put in twice the amount of butter for a doubled recipe, which meant I either had to throw everything away and start over, or end up with a quadrupled recipe. I went for the quadrupaling.

We have a LOT of waffles in the freezer. The house guests tried the waffles the next morning in the toaster, and declared them delicious. Successful experiment! I think the recipe needs tweaking – it needs a little sugar, and the optional cornmeal actually sounds good, so I might try that. And they were a little dense, probably because I didn’t whisk the egg whites nearly has much as the recipe said I ought, so maybe I’ll try that next, but with some cream of tartar to help things along a bit. So many tweaks. Or I could try another recipe.

In weaving news, I have a crazy idea involving 60/2 silk and some very fine baby alpaca and an overshot pattern. First, I want to make myself something beautiful like a shawl or scarf, but it occurred to me that I could sell one, and the pricetag would be fairly high – this would be a very time-consuming project with excellent and expensive materials. The bulk of the cost would reflect the labor involved. I wonder if I could sell one or two (or three?), because then I could buy a cello. It looks like that experiment has been successful enough that I’m close to outgrowing the cello I rent. Do you guys have any thoughts on this? Advice? Suggestions? Is this an idea worth pursuing?

(I can rent a viola da gamba, it turns out, and it is affordable. I kind of hope that I don’t love it as much as I think I will, because there are almost not enough hours in the day for adequate practice…)

 

Fixing things, making things, hanging things

Time marches on too quickly! Oh boy, have I been busy.

After house and pet sitting for a couple of weeks, I slept for a couple of weeks. I finished the grey towels – more to come on those. Then I discovered that I had a sticky brake caliper on one side of my car. Drat! Having come from a family that just fixes things and has most of the tools to do it, my brother came over and we replaced rotors and pads on both sides, and the caliper on one side. (It goes so much faster with two people.) After a long afternoon, I have fully functioning brakes now! Woo!


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My friend Lee has asked me to weave a blanket for her out of bamboo yarn. She bought some yarn for a sample, and I doodled. It’s not great – there are so many mistakes – but the point of a sample is to find out how to work with the yarn, how it compares with other yarns, and what the end texture/weight/hand of the piece will be after wet finishing. I was not at all sure I liked it the whole time it was on the loom. It seemed to behave like a yarn somewhere between mercerized cotton and tencel, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would just stay stiff and, well, like a kitchen towel. I don’t think I’d like a blanket that draped on me like a kitchen towel. But after washing, whoa nelly! It became a buttery soft cloth with the most amazing drape. Of course, it’s a kind of rayon, so I would expect fabulous drape, but I didn’t really expect the texture! It’s awfully close to resembling the hand of silk.

The yarn itself is a bit too light for a blanket, so we put that sample aside, and I’ve purchased a couple of cones of heavier yarn for another sample. I have enough of this new yarn to weave a sample that may also be useful, like a scarf. Stay tuned!


So there’s this international event that happens annually called Spinzilla. Basically, it’s a contest to see who can spin the most yarn (regardless of quality) in a week. There are teams and just random single people competing, and they just sit at the spinning wheel or carry around a drop spindle and spin spin spin. A friend of mine who has been participating since the very first Spinzilla encouraged me to join a team she was on this year, so I did. I even took a couple of days off work in order to have more time to spin, because that is the kind of person I am (coughcompetitivecough). I bought fiber for this purpose (which was REALLY silly – I had fiber). And I worried immensely about not having enough of my lovely fleece combed to spin (also silly – did I mention I had fiber?). So I combed wool.

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I still can’t believe how soft and luscious this wool is!

I combed a lot. 3-4 hours in one sitting for a couple of days. My shoulders really ached after the second day. And while I was combing, I suddenly remembered that I might have some roving around that would be easy to spin and I wouldn’t have to comb so much wool…

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Yeah. I found some fiber I had forgotten about. So much fiber. So. Much.

Okay, so fiber like this squishes, and I had quite a bit squished in a bin or two. So I stopped combing and started spinning. And ended up with this:

Left: wool/silk blend (colors), Southdown breed blend (white).

Middle: wool/silk blend, two batches, spun and plied. (These need to be plied a bit tighter/with more twise, so I’ll be running them back through the spinning wheel soon.)

Right: All the wool I spun in a week! One of the white skeins is more tightly plied, and it shows – that one is okay. The other will have to be plied with more twist.

In the end, I was VERY pleased with the amount I had spun and what I had learned. I also realized that I probably should be more social than I am because being with a group of people felt…kind of weird. But I did also come away with some very unhappy upper back and shoulder muscles. Sigh. No, Kate, you should not comb wool for hours and hours, and then spin for hours and hours without getting up and moving around after not having done it for a year.

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So happy with this! I learned a lot.

I’m especially happy with the combed wool I spun. The picture above isn’t a good one (sorry), but it records a pretty well plied two ply worsted yarn – this is the stuff I’d been combing in the pictures above. This close up above is before I washed it, so it looks darker and stiffer than it turned out after washing. The goal for learning to spin this kind of yarn is to be able to weave a good, hard-wearing cloth from it. I have plenty of wool to spin, so lots of practice with. This is from a lovely sheep living in Greenfield, MA (I hope he’s still there!) who I’m pretty sure was a Romney, but probably has other breeds in him as well.

And, by the way, I am very happy to announce that the team I participated with – Team Webs – scored second place with a total of 131,008 yards spun. Yay!!


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Harlequin. Shot in September 2018. I love this one, and I want to print it again so much larger.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been sort of getting ready for a photography show. It’s very informal – the photos were to hang at a local bakery in Amherst, MA. I had some photos already printed and framed, and needed to get others printed and framed – I went to a local print shop for the printing, but I framed them myself. On paper, this all seems pretty straightforward, but one can never properly account for how much time it’s going to take: LOTS.

I am kind of in love with some of the recent shots I took over the past couple of months. I love the paper they’re printed on, I love the colors, I love the clarity.

The end of a long push forward came earlier today when I hung eleven of my photos at Henion Bakery in Amherst, MA. I cannot describe how delighted I am to share them with other people, but in the same way I cannot describe the equal amount of terror I feel over sharing them with other people. Perhaps all photographers feel this way? I don’t know – this “hanging art” thing is very new to me, and wonderful, and deeply scary.

Prints of all of them are for sale. Most of the framed pictures in the bakery are also for sale. Stop by if you’re in town, grab a cuppa and one of Henion’s out-of-this-world pastries (seriously, try them – you will not be disappointed!), and check out the art hanging on the walls. They’ll be up until just before Thanksgiving.

 


I have also made a huge push to get an online shop going, which has been much more complicated than it at first seemed. I did get it done, and while there are still many tweaks to be made, I have an online shop at last! I have called it Waldenweave Studio. Currently, there are handwoven kitchen towels for sale, but I do intend to get my photography on there, and probably some of the little books I’ve been binding. There is also always the possibility I’ll put some other doodle or two up there – I may have to change the webpage up a bit to accommodate so many categories. Evolution will likely happen, as it tends to with everything!

So, the grey towels:

All done and I’m very pleased with them. You can find them in my shop – if you’re in a country other than the United States and you’d like to buy one, let me know at kate@waldenweave.com or via the contact form at the shop. I haven’t got a chance to investigate shipping rates to anywhere else, so I haven’t added that to the shop yet.

Please stop by my shop and let me know what you think! I will need to investigate sales and coupons, too. 🙂 I feel like readers here may appreciate a coupon.


In my other spare time, I have been trying to measure out this new warp. It’s 100% linen, and really my first time weaving line linen, so I chose a slightly thicker-than-usual-for-me yarn to start with. I am pretty excited about this, though. Linen is a really wonderful fiber, and you don’t see a lot of quality linen cloth in this country. Most of it seems to be from China, and seems to be woven from the tow (short fibers, nice, but not as strong) rather than the line (long fibers, up to three feet long, very strong). The tow is nice, don’t get me wrong. It becomes soft and lovely, and still has many of the wonderful qualities of linen (breathable, anti-microbial, holds an awful lot of moisture before actually feeling wet to the touch), but it also sheds lint like crazy. And that means it’s much shorter lived than line linen. Line, I’m given to understand, will also get crazy, deliciously buttery soft, but will not shed lint, will last longer, and has a lovely sheen to it. Like antique linen sheets, if you’ve ever seen them (and by ‘antique’, I mean 100 years old – yes, you can actually have sheets that are 100 years old and they’re still good – welcome to linen).

This warp will hopefully become a couple of kitchen towels – I make a lot of those, but honestly, for samples of cloth, they’re pretty handy. You can beat them up and see what happens, you can wrap things in them, you can dry dishes, you can use it as a napkin, you can use it as a place mat, you can dry your hair with them…all kinds of stuff. Of course, if this works as well as I think it might, I have ideas about making some overshot linen things. Rugs maybe? Runners? Just cloth? Hmm. I could absolutely use a linen overshot rug in my life…

What about you?

 

 

 

Finally, an update

I really did try to update this blog before now. I really did.

Things and Stuff have been happening. I am (finally) nearly almost practically done setting up an online shop. I nearly walked away from my day job, but then didn’t (it’s all good). I went to VT to see a friend graduate from college, and to visit another friend there. I have been practicing cello like a fiend – because every month I have lessons may be the last. (There are some calluses on my fingers, yo.) And I’m trying so hard to get things made that need to get made and get things done that need to get done.

The extremely good news is that the tendonitis has been continuing to recede, and some days I don’t even notice it!

On to the visual proof of what I’ve been doing.

I had this idea for a series of mostly handwoven, hand-dyed sort-of panels that would hopefully be shown at a local library’s art gallery next year – or maybe just hang on the wall where I live. It’s still swimming around in my head and would be oh so

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The tannins in black tea turns the cloth black where the cloth has been exposed to iron oxide. Behold! Chemistry!

cool – I haven’t made any art in years and years. Part of it involved an indigo dye vat and another part involved rust stains. The indigo is straightforward, and the resulting fiber requires no special treatment afterwards. However, staining with rust means that there’s rust still on the fibers (I think), and my original plan involved staining the yarn and then weaving it – only the reed in the loom is stainless steel, and I’m betting it’s not that stainless when literally up against actual rust. So, I decided the cloth would have to be dyed. And then I read about overdyeing rusty cloth with tea, and instantly learned about iron mordants! I’m still thinking hard about this potential art. We’ll see if I get to it this year.

 

I finished the two cotton scarves. They were difficult in ways I didn’t anticipate – the weave was planned to be loose, which means paying very close attention to beat. The selvedges are a mess – that is, they’re not perfect or close to even, and it drives me a little batty. One could attach the label “rustic” to them, but I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m trying to decide if that should go to my shop or not. I do have a large-ish pile of things to sell.

 

I’ve been going to a knitting group at one of the local yarn shops again – it’s been about six months since the last time, but being in a space dominated by lovely yarn, knitting needles, and loads of people knitting was not conducive to the tendonitis healing, so I stayed away. When I finally went back the other night, a friend of mine showed me some really luscious fleece she’s acquired, and some examples spun up – she’s an excellent spinner! Apparently, she’s prepared at all times for any spinning emergency as shown in the above pictures of the contents of her car. There were six drop spindles in that plastic tote. The bags are full of fleece. (Even I’m not that prepared!)

 

The things I find in Amherst.

Sorry about not providing an update of Emily Dickenson’s grave – I’ve been back, but failed to take pictures. I will next time!

 

And here’s the next project! It’s tiny yarn (24/2 for those who want to know), and I’m hoping it will make nice cloth suitable for napkins. I didn’t sample (I know, I know, I’ll kick myself later), but I figure the resulting cloth will still be useful? I hope? The thing that really worries me is the selvedges. I recently found plainweave.net, and there were some helpful suggestions both for producing good selvedges and also for letting go of that selvedge perfection goal. Stay tuned.

 

OMGOMGOMGOMG!! I can spin wool again!! I can’t believe it. I have been positively aching to spin wool, and there’s still so much of it, and and and and! I had borrowed a couple of movies from the library (btw, The Shape of Water is a must see – really) and dusted off my wheel. It felt soooo good. I finished up the bobbin that was on there, and started another (pictured). Hopefully, a little every week will be spun and then I can weave the yarn. This project, of course, was supposed to be finished last October.

 

And finally, I CAN KNIT AGAIN!! Okay, in small doses. My thumb starts to get kind of tingly after about four rows, which is a sign of Overdoing It. So, as long as I’m careful to not knit more than about four rows at a time with a couple of hours in between (for now), then there will be slow progress.

I’m also reading up on some really exciting overshot patterns. The loom has four shafts on it now, but can accommodate up to ten shafts (I think – possibly twelve?), and I think the next step might be eight. My buddy Lee has asked me to weave a blanket for her, and so of course I’m thinking about a complicated, beautiful pattern with, of course, more shafts. Because New! Shiny! Complicated!

And I’ve been reading about bookbinding, because I’ve only bound one book and I’m weirdly itchy to make some more. This time, I have idea about weaving cloth for the cover (yes, I have ideas about making paper out of linen or cotton scraps and possibly also thrums and binding that into a book – that’s a long term project). I’ve got some really lovely cotton paper and some ethereal blue Japanese paper (don’t know what the fiber content of that is), and string…where would I find some string…..? The only thing I need is some Davey board for covers, and a Coptic bound book is mine.

Also, I got out my camera again. Oh boy. I forgot how lost I can get in photography. Whole chunks of time just whiz by without me taking any notice – what’s that sound? It’s my stomach! Why? I just ate lunch! Oh. No. That was nine hours ago. Oh. The sun has set. Oh. It’s actually time for bed. Damn.

One of my favourite pictures I have ever produced featured an orchid:

Grace

Grace

I love that picture more than I can say. And so I thought because I made such a pretty thing before with the help of an orchid, I would try again with other orchids (of course, none of my current orchids are blooming, so I needed new ones). I have to admit, they do add some lovely color to that room – I really miss gardening!

Yesterday, I found some peonies. The kitchen was transformed into a photography studio, and away flew several hours. I’m still in the process of editing, but when I am done, I think they will become prints and cards.

Did I mention I also bought a shoe pattern last month? Well, I did. With the intention of weaving the cloth that would become shoes. And if I could grow the fiber myself that I could use to weave the cloth, I would. Oh – of course, I will use some of that wool I’ve been spinning. And it may go into an indigo vat.

Hopefully, next time I’ll have news about stuff for sale! What have you been up to?

Experiments: success and failure

The month of November has been tumultuous. Some projects were ongoing, some were started and came to a screeching halt. As with all projects, and in my case, experiments, there were successes and failures.

I started and made a bit of headway on a weaving project.

Warp measured and wound. Currently, I have about 1/3 of the heddles threaded, but had to stop due to a very unexpected injury. And actually, I’m not at all sure if I’m happy with the pattern I’ve threading. It’s currently a bird’s eye twill, but something tells me I might be happier with a simple herringbone. I could do this with the current threading by just altering the treadling, but, oh, I’m waffling. Waffle, waffle. In any case, I can’t actually continue threading, so I’m just letting threading ideas waft around in my head for a bit. I have time.

The sucky part of not being able to act on this project right now is that I have nothing to sell, and no gifts made for winter gift-giving holidays. Argh.

I did attempt to do some spinning, but that didn’t work out so well either. There was a bit of a tangle.

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Argh. Argh, argh, argh.

I did eventually get this sorted, and spun the rest of the little wool nest, but had to stop.

Quite a few of my friends have birthdays in October, so around the end of the month, I attempted tempering chocolate for to make presents!

The chocolates on the left are solid. The chocolates on the right are squares of dipped squares of ganache. They look so good, don’t they?

Unfortunately, this was not well-tempered chocolate – a week later, I discovered it had bloomed. Which was super embarrassing because I’d already given some away. When chocolate blooms, it’s completely edible, but the texture is a bit different as some fats come the the surface and it looks ugly. Back to the drawing board. But not for a bit yet.

I did sell two dish towels! The last two green ones that I was thinking about keeping got snapped up.

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On the way to the post office!

About 20ish years ago, I planted some seeds from a lemon I bought at the grocery store. They took ages, and I nearly gave up, but eventually, after some weeks, they germinated. I only have one left, and that one grew and grew into a fine tree. It comes inside in the winter, and goes outside in the summer. About two years ago, I found a couple of blossoms on it, which was very unexpected. I’d read up on growing lemons from seed, and they often result in a tree that never blooms. This one did, but since the blossoms ended up growing at the end of the year, they’d fall off when the tree was brought in – there is no sunny place in the house, so it spends the winter under (mostly inadequate) lights and in a dry environment.

This year, it bloomed while outside when no one was looking, and the bees did their thing! I also have a couple of Key lime trees I grew from seed, and they bloom every year prolifically, so I imagine the lemon got help from the limes and the bees. Suddenly, there fruit on the lemon tree. Just one. And it stayed there. And it grew!

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A lemon-sized lemon! Organically grown in Western Massachusetts!

It fell off the tree a few days ago, so now it’s in the fridge while I decide what to do with it. Candy the peel? Dry the peel? Freeze the juice? Make lemonade? I suspect it’s not quite ripe, but close enough.

(For anyone wondering, the variety is likely a Lisbon. It’s one of the most widely grown commercial lemons and has truly mighty thorns.)

Of course, I want a greenhouse someday to grow my orchids, lemon tree and lime trees.

So. On to the injury. And my Sekrit Experiment.

On September 1, 2017, I started cello lessons. This has been a dream since I was about 9, but I’d never before been in a position where I could 1. afford it, 2. where I had space, and 3. where I wasn’t going to bother the neighbours. Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake, but it occurred to me around August this year that I had all these conditions where I live now, and I might not by the spring when I have to move again. So, I thought I’d try it for three months to see if I really liked it.

I have never tried to play a stringed instrument before, and haven’t played any musical instruments regularly since I was about 18. I thought that part of my life was done. But I found a place to rent a cello and found a teacher. Three months. That was it. Then at least I could say I tried it.

What happened next was completely unexpected.

I set a goal of practicing one hour every day. Instead, I got lost in practicing and often went over one hour. On the weekends, it wasn’t unusual to practice for a couple of hours. Once I accidentally practiced for three hours – not all at once – but still. Oh, I’d set timers, and I’d blow right through them. The joy at working at this was (is) tremendous.

Was there progress? I think so. I can tell when I hit the right notes more often now. I hit that magical 100 hours of learning a new thing. I started learning a couple of very, very easy Baroque/Classical pieces.

I also acquired a shiny, new case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome/one hell of a repetitive stress injury in my bow hand due to a too tight hold on the bow and not taking enough breaks.

This means that for the last three weeks, I’ve been sleeping with a brace, I have appointments with an occupational therapist, I am typing and mousing mostly with my left hand at work, and I am completely unable to do any of my other hobbies. I carry heating pads with me. There are ice packs at home at at work. Bowing has come to nearly a screeching halt. There has been crying and sadness. There was a period last week where I was sure I’d have to just give it up because this kind of injury seems to not completely disappear in most other people. I steeled myself. Moar sad.

Which is ridiculous! It’s just a cello! I don’t need it more than food and shelter!

Sigh.

So, experiment successful. And a catastrophe. Right now, I’m hoping I will be able to wield a shovel when the snow comes. And then maybe weave again. And practice cello. I am plucking now instead of bowing, and setting a goal of bowing in two to three 5 minute chunks with 20-30 minutes rest for the next week, and will go from there. Maybe I can weave again in a month or so. And shovel snow.

 

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!

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???

What I did on my vacation, by Kate

The last week of March, I was on vacation.

And what a vacation it was! No one called me, I had no obligations to anyone, I had a pile of DVDs*, a pound of tea, plenty of milk for it, and nothing else but time and a lot of potential and actual in-progress projects.

Up at 6am, boil water for tea, proceed to Designated Project (whatever I feel like doing), pour boiled water over tea leaves, return to Project, pour tea when steeped, return to Project. Drink delicious, life-giving tea. Add food when necessary. Go to bed when exhausted, probably 9pm. Wash, rinse, repeat. For NINE GLORIOUS DAYS.

Okay, I did get some other, non-crafty things accomplished too: car’s oil changed, car inspected, garage/basement cleaned and tidied up, laundry, dishes, bills paid, some groceries purchased… but that all amounted to hardly any time at all in the scheme of things. (Still hugely glad to get it all done.)

On to the pictures (which I did not take enough of, alas)!

The latest dishtowel project was finally washed, dried, cut, and hemmed, along with the hemming of the second blue/green bathmat. I love these towels so much, I have plans to make at least 8 more, and matching napkins.

On the way home from one of my errands, I swung by the local fish monger’s for clams. After making the diz from the mussel shell, I’ve been thinking about other shells I could use. I bought some mahogany clams a few weeks ago, but am not thrilled with those shells (the idea of needing to use bleach to get the mahogany part off does not appeal), but I really did want to eat clams and when I saw there were regular old clams, I jumped at buying a couple of pounds. They were delicious, by the way, and the shells are mostly gorgeous, no? I’ve not got around to applying the drill yet.

Possibly on the same day, while running some sort of errand, I found myself in Hadley, where there’s a dairy farm that sells raw milk. And I thought, oh, I could make cheese! So I bought a gallon. But, because I really want to avoid things like listeria, I pasteurized it, which is something I had to learn to do (above: left, heating to 165F, right, cooling to ~80F). Don’t get me wrong, I loooooves me some raw milk, and I don’t really drink milk at all (it’s just for tea). But raw milk is like the Elixir of Life – I don’t know what it is about it because it doesn’t taste all that different than pasteurized milk, but MAN. I could drink a half gallon in one sitting. Really, though, listeria would have ruined my vacation, yanno?

CHEEEEEEESE!

See, next door to the fish monger’s is the local Beer and Winemaking Supply Shop that also carries some cheese making supplies. In this case, rennet. So, heat milk, apply rennet, wait a bit, cut the curds, keep cutting until they’re small, heat the milk a bit until more whey comes out, drain off whey, add salt to the curds, put in the fridge to drain some more, and PRESTO! You have the best tasking cottage cheese ever. Really. That crap in the grocery store that has 17 ingredients? You don’t need that. You need milk and rennet and salt. And maybe a little cream to mix in at the end to make the curds creamy. Honestly, it’s not hard. Also, rennet is wicked cheap and a gallon of milk makes a lot.

I tried cooking the whey to get ricotta, but it didn’t quite work out. I’m not sad, though. I’m not a big ricotta fan. At some point, I will figure out what to do with the whey.

A couple of days later, I did buy a half gallon of 2% pasteurized milk from the store down the street to give that a try. And it worked! Sometimes dairies pasteurize their milk at a higher temperature than is strictly necessary and that destroys the proteins enough so that the rennet won’t actually produce a curd, just a sort of slurry. You can’t get cheese out of that. But this particular brand I had high hopes for, and I chose wisely. So much cottage cheese on my vacation. So much deliciousness.

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OMG dreadful. This is embarrassing.

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Sort of better.

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This is acceptable. Especially since I know it will absolutely be fine after washing and drying several times.

I also practiced weaving plain weave. Every single weaver I’ve spoken to has been shocked that I avoid plain weave because my edges suck. And they do! Or they did. A lot. You can see in the last picture that it got much better. I needed the practice for the napkins I need to weave, so I chose my least favorite yarn, warped on 4 yards at 24″ wide and got to work. I had it done in a couple of days, I think, from start to finish amid doing a few other things. Then washed and dried the snot out of it. I experimented with shuttle throwing, beating, and whether or not to use a temple. There were mistakes, but for the most part, I figured I’d end up with a piece of cloth I could cut up and use for something else if it got really ugly, and I’d gain More Experience. In the end, I did get a piece of cloth and more experience, and both turned out better than I thought they would! The cloth is going to serve as a bag with which I’m going to fill with clean, carded wool, then sew up – I need a new bed pillow. There’s a bit of cloth left on the good end that I’m going to hem up to use as a sample napkin (likely, it’ll get sent to Dan in Vermont who is sometimes my Industrial Tester. Also, he is one of the napkin requesters, so sample.)

And hey! I learned how to make nice plain weave selvedges! Huzzah!

I also went to a local Mineral, Fossil and Gem show. It’s small, annual, and extremely close to where I live, and I forget about it every year. Except this one! (World’s Cutest Lobster Fossil – yes?) I got to hold a wee baggie of mammoth hair, and the upper back portion of a mastodon jaw complete with molars!

And also, of course, I worked with wool. A lot.

I washed wool – finally got 421’s fleece done! – combed wool, spun wool, and plied wool yarn. I lurve this wool so much, and cannot get over how much I love it. Combing, it turns out, is sometimes the funnest thing ever. When you’ve got the fibers free of dirt and vegetation, and they just shine in the light – oh man. It’s gorgeous. The spinning is actually slightly difficult, but this is because, it turns out, I learned to spin slightly incorrectly. Or rather, when I first started, I had figured out on my own how to spin a good yarn, then someone steered me slightly off-course, and I didn’t know any better but thought it was my fault that I couldn’t make good yarn… well, long story. To cut it short, I’ve had to re-learn what I’d taught myself years ago. But hey, yarn! That two-ply is completely suitable for weaving! WOOHOO! (Okay, I’m not totally convinced that that picture is of the weaving-suitable two-ply, but it is a sample of yarn spun from 420’s fleece. I’ll have to dig around for more pics!)

And that pretty much concludes my vacation!

The wool is going to be a Project for a while – I’ve only just made a noticeable dent in 420’s fleece, 421’s fleece is a bit heavier and will be spun separately, 801’s fleece is going to be part or all of my new pillow as a lot of that is really too short to comb and kind of weak for spinning (also second cuts! Argh!), and 409’s fleece (the North Country Cheviot) still needs washing. AND, I found my very first fleece ever, which was apparently somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5lbs and was not all washed at once. Looks like ~3lbs remain (6 years later – argh) unwashed, so that’s on the list for processing too.

Stay tuned for progress on the pillow and napkins!

*For the record, the DVDs play in the background in the same way an audio book might. The advantage to this is that I can play the same DVD two or three times and get something new out of it because I’m not really paying attention the whole time. The disadvantage is that I have to play the same DVD two or three times to get the whole plot because I’m not paying attention the whole time.