Summer

This summer has not been terribly conducive to? helpful for? organized with respect to? making things. Frequently these days, the day starts at 3am, which is never my choice, and that level of Teh Tired sucks out motivation for anything other than staring at the wall wondering why I am staring at the wall. However, I have remembered to leave the knitting on the couch so that when I’m staring at the wall, my hands have something to do and Something gets Made. This is helpful because after a couple of hours, a significant amount of sock materializes that I don’t remember knitting, but hey, handmade socks! And it makes the wall staring seem less worrisome somehow.

I have been collecting pictures of bits of excitement from the last couple of weeks:

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A Polyphemus Moth. Yes, that’s my hand, and yes, he was huge. (I’m pretty sure it was a male, but I could be wrong.)

I was running my usual work errands and on my walk up the street nearly stepped on this guy. It was an unseasonably cold day at 60F (about 30 degrees colder than usual), and he was only too happy to crawl up onto my warm hand and grab on for all he was worth. I carried him across downtown to the library, which has a lovely woodland garden in the back. I put him under a tiny Japanese maple, and he fluttered up onto a branch, probably feeling a lot better since he was no longer in the open.

I finished off the weirdly purple/brown socks. Gosh, those are wonderful to wear. They’re Madelaine Tosh merino and so, so soft. But the yarn was weirdly dyed. These new blue/green socks are made from some of my favorite sock yarn: Berroco superwash. They wear like iron, and I have never had them give the slightest hint of felting if I put them in the washer and dryer. (I’ve stopped doing that as other brands were starting to felt.) I find the yarn is a teeny bit heavier than other brands of sock yarn, so knitting up with size 0 needles really gives you a dense, hard-wearing fabric, but still stretchy. I like my socks to not stretch out too much when I wear them, so I’m constantly adjusting my vanilla pattern. This time, I’ve added a wee gusset to my short row heel to allow for a bit more diagonal stretch from the heel to the top of the foot as I’ve reduced the number of stitches across the foot a bit. The gusset thing is totally made up, so we’ll see how it works out. I had wanted to figure out how to do a heel flap on a toe-up sock, but there was Wall Staring, so that was a non-starter. This was the best I could come up with. The real test is to finish them and wear them.

The colors are delightfully cool in the heat of the summer, and they remind me of all the colors of the Atlantic Ocean here in the north.

Only, have I mentioned? It’s been boiling hot and humid (read: deeply tropical) for a few days, then distinctly autumnal – the kind of weather that makes you crave roasted squash, woolly sweaters, and hot drinks with whiskey in them – then it’s boiling hot and humid again. I’m not really complaining. Usually it’s just boiling hot and humid. So, so humid. Everything gets damp, and five minutes after a morning shower, you feel you need another one. The cool weather is fiiiiine. Plus, I love roasted squash.

 

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I want to sew shoes….? Of course I want to sew shoes. Of course.

So, I want to make my own shoes. I can’t actually afford all the tools necessary to become my own cobbler (yet), but I do have all the necessary tools to sew cloth shoes. Having a body whose parts do not conform to a single standard size, I have to hunt for things to clothe said parts. Which means I am not one of those fortunate souls who can walk into a mall and buy cute summer shoes that fit. Also, the crap they sell in malls wears out in a season, and I’m so done with that (*stifling a rant on consumerism, marketing, and the environment*). The solution is obviously to make my own out of materials that are renewable, affordable, and will not persist in the environment for hundreds of years. And if I make it, I can likely repair it when needed. So. The above is a first stab at a pattern. It’s nearly there. The pins are holding tucks where I will likely put seams. The white on the inside is a temporary cardboard insole, which will be replaced with a linen/wool insole in the finished product.

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Thrums from the napkin project.

I have kept a lot of the thrums from the napkin project mostly because I am in love with the colors. There must be SOMETHING I can do with them.

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The napkins. Washed three times, dried three times, ironed to within an inch of their little lives.

There they are! They’re beautiful for the most part. I mean, the colors are gorgeous, and I love them. The selvedges are kind of crap and I’m pretty sure some of the colors shrunk at a different rate than others, which gave me weird ripples. Ironed, they’re fine. And they will absolutely work as napkins. So as soon as I can find a box to send them in, I will ship them north to their intended new home. (Box hunting may be on my after-work agenda today.)

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Another pair of trouser for my bud Jenny! (Hi, Jenny!)

I have a few more pairs of trousers to make for my friend. This pair is getting done slowly but surely! This is a close up of the waistband being attached. I’ll sew it together tonight, then serge, then topstitch, then fold, iron, etc etc.

 

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Yeah, so there’s this new-to-me loom. It’s hyooge. It’s Very Swedish. It has 12 shafts. Once I get some heddles, theoretically I will be able to weave all the things! Wider! And more accurately! With super complicated patterns!

Though the place I live in has lots of space for things like looms, there is only space for one assembled loom at a time. The Auld Loom has been disassembled and put upstairs to keep the fabric and wool bins company for now. I have spent the last three days putting this new (used) one together, which is not to say it’s super complicated, but rather it was (is being) assembled in short bursts. (Assemble, sit and stare at the wall for an hour or two, assemble, sit and stare. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.) The next step is to buy a lot of heddles for it, then put on a warp. All the instructions I found on countermarche looms tell me that once I put a warp on and tie up the treadles, all will become clear as to how this loom works. (Personally, I’m hoping for a tesseract-like action whereby I’ll be able to weave in several dimensions at once. I mean, did you see the pulleys and levers?)

 

 

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You just don’t see many of these guys anymore!

Depending on what street I park on, I sometimes get to walk past a house that’s got a large patch of purple cone flowers right in front. The woman who lives in that house is kind of my hero. She’s Polish, barely speaks English (but enough to be understood), stacks a giant pile of wood in a shed in the backyard all by herself in the fall, tends a vegetable garden that takes up the rest of the tiny yard, walks all over town to run errands and do shopping, and she’s very much past retirement age. I always tell her how beautiful her garden looks whenever I see her, and she seems glad to hear it. And hey, honeybees!

 

Life

Where to begin.

First, I am fine. Totally and completely fine. I complain about being tired and not having time to make things and there’s too much to do around the house blah blah blah, but actually, it’s all fine. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, enough money to pay my bills, and things to make other things out of. I have friends and family who I love and who love me back.

I wove a set of eight napkins for my friend Kathy (hi, Kathy!), but since they are not quite right (perhaps due to my lack of skill, the coarseness of this particular loom, or, the fact that different colors of this brand of yarn seem to shrink at different rates when wet finished), I am going to weave another set out of (probably) more reliable yarn on a different loom, thereby increasing the chances of solving the problems.*  I still need to hem them, so there will be more pictures soon. Here are the stripes:

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Stripey goodness! I do love this color pattern.

There have been a couple of family emergencies (no worries – everyone is okay, just very stressed out) and I’ve been trying to make sure I am in the place where I can do the most good and be the most helpful as often as possible.

I’ve started a new pair of socks, and those have been following me hither and yon. Recently, they came with me on a trip to visit a dear friend:

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Weirdly, they are both from the same ball, but one is definitely more purple than the other. They’ll be fiiiiiiiiine.

This dear friend is one from college. We met each other when I moved to Germany studying on exchange, and being the only other American on the dorm floor (okay, there was one other, but she mostly lived with her boyfriend on an army base…that’s a longer story), and both of us being lovers of books and language, we generally got along fabulously well. I was so afraid of making mistakes, and he kept prodding me on telling me I was doing fiiiiiiine, then he’d suggest a list of books I could read that might help. And then we’d sit at the kitchen table and read the American Heritage Dictionary and laugh so hard, we’d cry. I made many, many fond memories during my two years in Germany, and those are some of the dearest.

He’s very deeply extremely academically minded. And brilliant. And right now, he’s got cancer in a pretty bad way. So, I went to visit him and his partner because I can and they wanted me to and it was pretty damned awesome.

There were so many fine things: books, and much laughing, and eating bags of cherries because they’re in season, and tiramisu, and creme brulee, and tea, and a picnic in the afternoon, and talking about Europe, and woodworking, and knitting, and visiting the neighbor and her awesome dog Hank, and there were cats rolling around being silly and meowing their heads off pretty much all the time, and there was Monty Python. And I truly can’t wait to see them again!

 

I flew home, knitting my socks, thinking deep thoughts about life and death and what that means, and thinking about what’s important and what’s not.

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The making is important.

The spending of time with your family and friends omgrightnow is important. People, this is really important.

Staying in touch with friends is important.

Hugging those family and friends is important. Tell them you love them.

Eating the sandwich AND the cookie is important. Just eat the damned cookie. It’s delicious. And you only get to live once.

Sometimes, something comes up and you have to think hard about that last phrase. You look it squarely in the eye and see it for what it is. Eat the cookies, cherish other people, love with abandon, cry in public, laugh as much as you can, live.


 

This weekend, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for years and years: I took a class on basket weaving.

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This is going to be a shopping basket! It’s in the car now just in case I need to buy something on the way home. It may or may not get a cloth liner.

And we used the world’s cutest planes to accomplish this:IMG_3004

And this was waiting in front of the bakery when I came back to work last week:

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I have some cherries waiting at home for me. And a couple of really good audiobooks to go with the hemming of napkins. I might glance at my list of projects that need doing, but I’m not going to worry too much about that right now.

To my friends and family: I love you so much I can’t adequately express it. Every last one of you. Even if you don’t hear from me for a while, please know that I still cherish you and our friendship.

 

 

 


*I may have acquired another loom. Ahem.

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.

 

 

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.