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?


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.


OMG dreadful. This is embarrassing.


Sort of better.


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.

Moar wool.

This past weekend was so full. (Except for sleep, alas.)

There was so much tea, snacks, wool combing, spinning, tidying, weaving, and washing wool. (And there were the usual weekend chores too.)

Here, have some pictures:

I may have mumbleboughtanotherfleecemumble….this one’s a North Country Cheviot, a breed I know nothing about, but this fleece is huge, so I’ll find out. So hey, learning! The wool is soft and very springy, and as you can see, very white. I washed a handful just to see what it was going to be like, then flicked a lock to see what that would be like. I think spinning this is going to be very different than spinning 420.

And speaking of 420, I gave in and slapped a fresh bobbin on the ole spinning wheel, and started spinning up some of those nests:

I got a little rambunctious there and didn’t move the yarn winding on, so it buckled a bit, but that’s okay. Both colors are from the same fleece, which I adore! I can’t wait to weave with this yarn – I think this might be like knitting socks with a variegated yarn in that you end up with a surprise in the final color pattern. So many more nests to spin! (So much fleece yet to comb!)

This is a diz. Homemade. I think this shell came from Long Island Sound, but it might have come from Maine. Or Nova Scotia. Totally unsure. In any case, I pretty much always have the odd shell around just in case I figure out something to do with them. I love shells, and have always thought that surely there must be some use for them! This one is now a diz. There was about 15 minutes of sanding on the top, then, wearing protective eyewear, I drilled three holes. I think I probably should have sanded the edges of the holes a bit more, but it works now.

After you’ve combed your wool into submission, and you’re ready to get it off the comb it’s on, the tool of choice is a diz. You can do this without a diz, but the diz makes things more even and consistent. You thread a bit of the wool through one of the holes in the diz, and then gently pull. The wool, naturally a bit sticky to itself, will draw off and bring other fibers with it, and you end up with a long snake-like piece of wool with all the fibers going in one direction, ready to spin. To store this, you wrap it around you hand a bunch of times and pull a loop near the other end through the middle. There’s a good tutorial for combing and making a nest here, though she doesn’t use a diz.

I also, at some point, went grocery shopping, and found a bag of mahogany clams that were calling out to me. I figured, hey, good food, and then a pile of shells with which to experiment and maybe make more dizzes. Or practice making dizzes. They were delicious, too.

And I finally got started on the next dishtowel project!

Stripey goodness!

Stripes, it turns out, are a PIA if they don’t follow any sort of per-inch pattern. So, this one has a pattern something like .5″, 1.5″, .75″, 1.5″, .75″, .5″, wash, rinse, repeat until you’ve reached 600 ends across, or 20″. But hey, more learning! Also, they’re going to be really pretty.

Next weekend, I’ll be driving up to Burlington, VT to visit a friend. I’ll try to bring the hat to work on. I’ll also try not to buy any fleeces, yarn, paint, ink, wood, tools…well, anything. I have FOUR bags full now and need to make some headway on that!