Sunday, October 31, 2010

One left foot

One twisted ankle
Did I mention I signed up for a 'Learn to Run' class? Yup, they teach this. And there is a lot to learn (where to land on your foot for example) and a lot of homework (practise)! It's a great way to become a runner. I know this because I have taken the course before and had worked up to running 13 minutes, then a 2 minute walk and repeat the sequence. It got me through a 5k run in a respectable time. But that was a few years ago a a few pounds lighter.
Well, this time I failed. Flunked out. We got to the midterm and I had worked up to be running a full three continuous minutes, then a two minute walk and was feeling pretty good about this progress when I found a pothole, at the 30 minute mark, in the side walk and down I went. I limped back to work (this being a lunch time activity) where the first aid people bandaged me up, gave me a cold pack and strict instructions to keep it elevated as much as possible for the first 48hours. Apparently early care means an early heal (no pun intended).
I do not mind being housebound or couch bound, but here is the problem. My right foot is the sprained one and my spinning wheel is a single right-foot treadle. What's the good of being house and couch-bound with 36 more spinning homework kits awaiting and with only one left foot?
Alpaca and black walnut dyed wool, drum carded
 (on the left), combed (in the middle) and being
 dizzed into fine tops which were rolled until
ready to spin (on the right)
I returned to the guest bedroom aka the wool stash and without awaking Priscila the spirit, the-fleece-less-sheep-that-rules-the-guest-bedroom-wool-stash, dug into the homework bag that held the kits still to be blended, combed, carded and dizzed and spent today seated in the sunroom aka the production studio and carded, belnded, combed and dizzed a few more kits, so at least I felt I was making some progress. Back on the couch, I resorted back to the spindle and am now working on a blend of silk and mohair. Very deluxe. But I am getting ahead of the next post.
Count down: 150 days to go (using revised deadline date of March 31)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Adams River Sockeye Boondoggle and Kit #19

Sockeye salmon heading up the Adams River
Dead fish lining the shores of
Shuswap Lake
The river ran red. Really. This is the BIG BIG BIG year for the Adams River Sockeye salmon run. For some reason, every four years, there is a bumper year for sockeye returning fish--after their first year, spent in fresh water, the little tykes head down river and spend the next three years in the ocean before returning to their birth place. So a big year is every 4th year and this was a 4th year. Despite predictions from some quarters of a crash, this year was the biggest year since 1913, 34.5 MILLION FISH!. Compare that to last years 1 million fish. This was BIG BIG. Once in a lifetime. So we had to go see it.  Click here to see my slide show.
Spinning Kit# in the van
We've been to the last 4th year run and 8 years before, and they were impressive, so I didn't know how this could be even more impressive. It wasn't that we saw more fish swimming up river- maybe we did but I never counted--but what we saw was more dead fish. After they spawn they die. It's their destiny. So while the line of fish kept going up river, those that spawned and died, floated back down the river and lined the shores of Shuswap Lake. The mouth of the river was thick with dead fish. Now think about this. 34.5 million fish all spawning then dying and littering the shore. That adds up to a lot of dead fish with decaying, rotting flesh. The smell was, well, it smelt. Bearable but the smell did linger with us for hours. .....hmmm, I better have someone with a sensitive nose, check the aroma of kit # 19 - fine grade fleece wool spun and prepared worsted-style, spun in the van on the way there and carried in my pack while viewing and sidestepping dead fish.
Count: 4 down 36 to go

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day 3 and 4, Kit #38

Spinning in the car - not while I drove.
Okay, Kit #38 is supposed to be at the finish line, or at in sight of it but I panicked. I was worried about all the travelling I had coming up in the next week and thinking I would be a week behind with only 1, maybe 2 kits completed.
I was off to Victoria to meet with a curator at the BC Museum to look at historical photos of Coast Salish spinning (but that's another story) and then to go to the Victoria Hand Weavers and Spinners Guild meeting, which meant that I wouldn't have time to spin. Eureka, I would take my spindle and the Kit (#38) that required a 10 yard sample of a 2 ply yarn done with a drop spindle. I could spindle at the Guild meeting, and while the other half drove, I could spindle in the car. And this gives me a good idea. For all those trips, I will select some other kits that would be suitable to use the spindle. One big headache solved.
Which brings me back to Kit #38, a blend of beige llama blended with a Frieson x Suffolk cross both of which had a similar length staple and I had dyed the wool with Black Walnuts to get that ho-hum beige. The mix is a very nice, soft camel coloured yarn.
Time: 1.5 hours driving, 1 hour in a meeting, 1 hour plying in the car, in the dark using a flashlight! = 3.5 hours (including coffee stops)
Count: 3 down, 37 to go.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Homework - Kit #1 True Woollen

Kit #1, Merino, prepared and spun woollen
Arrrghhh. I didn't enjoy Kit #1 (which I did second) until I got into the groove which was about at the 90% done mark but before then I was fighting it. The assignment: spin 10 yards of a fine fleece (I used Merino) using a true woollen preparation and true woolllen spinning technique. Simple. HA!  
After spending 4 months trying to get integrity into my yarn by spinning a true worsted, I had forgotten how to loosen up and spin an easy-as-pie woollen. Adding to my frustration was the idea lurking in the back of my mind that I would run out of Merino so I had to make this work. What rubbish. Think about it. There are an estimated 100 million sheep just in Australia and the majority of them are Merino. There is lots of Merino fleece to be had if I needed more, so why let that fear worry me. I finally put that thought out of my mind. Once I got into the hang of easy-as-pie woollen long draw, it worked, there was evenness in the yarn. When I plied it back on itself to test what it would look gawd, it looked good. So I kept going and then plied the two bobbins into one yarn and got 20 meters with fleece to spare. Not much but some, at least enough for the assignment but I have to admit, I didn't think that my plying was even. But right now I am feeling...good enough. Move on to something nicer, something more pleasing and relaxing to spin.
Time to prepare, spin, curse, ply, wash: 2 hours
Count: 2 down 38 to go.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Homework - Kit #2 - Adding Memory

Black llama blended
with white wool and integrity!
Memory...wouldn't it be great to be able to add memory. I gave my father a memory stick on his 80th, what every ageing person needs -- more memory. Who would have thought that some fibres have no memory. They forget what they are supposed to be, how to hold their shape, how to return to their original state. Wool however, does have memory. Wear a wool sweater, and it holds it shape. If it does stretch, say at the elbows, wash it, lay it out to dry and it bounces back to it's original shape. Llama on the other hand doesn't have memory. Llama is beautiful, soft, warm, strong but draping clothes will stretch. Sleeves will get longer.  
For garments made with inelesatic fibres that will hang, you need to blend in some wool to give it a bit of bounce and bounce-back memory.
Which brings me to my homework where I decided to start with Kit #2, an exercise to mix two fibres, one without memory and one with. I chose some black silky llama and added 38% white wool to get a dark gray with some bounce. It was wonderful to spin. It glided out of my hand in a continuous smooth flow of fibres. I didn't have to do much work at all. And damn it, if it didn't have integrity!
60 minutes to blend it = 60
40 minutes for each bobbin = 80 minutes plus 60 = 140 plus
20 minutes to ply it = 160 minutes plus
20 minutes to write up my notes = 180 minutes = 3 hours!
And then I have to figure out a way to mount a 10 yard sample skein, plus a lock of each original fibre and a sample of the blend before spinning. Say another 15 minutes.
That means I have to speed up or double up on the amount I do. This is going to be a tight, tight schedule! I either have to spin smaller amounts, and keep to the 10 yard requirements or make the most of some samples and make enough that the extra can be incorporated into my major project at the end. Inspired by this kit, I have an idea already for the project - a woven scarf made a various shades of gray.
1 down, 39 kits and 179 days to go.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Getting my homework organized to begin.
Priscilla-the-fleece-less-sheep-that-rule-the-guest-bedroom-wool-stash, has stamped her hooves and has threatened me, "Get this #@$% stuff out of here. For Gawds sake do something with it. Or else" and 3 bags of fibre samples meant for homework were thrown into the hallway.
Heavy hoofed but she was right, it was time to start my homework after all, it has been 4.5 months since my Master Spinners Level 2 course and that meant I only have 5.5 months left to finish it. Yikes!
I have been procrastinating but for a very good reason. Integrity. After being told in class that my yarn lacked integirty (see the earlier post) , I have been spinning up a storm trying to achieve integrity and I think I am there and now ready to tackle the bags of fibre homework.
So I spent this afternoon laying out all the fibre and putting together homework 'kits'. Each kit is in a ziplock bag and holds the instructions and fibres. So kit #33 for example contains some black Llama and some Frieson x Suffolk sheep fleece and instructions: spin a 10 yard skein of a blend suitable for a knitted vest. It may be 2 or more plies (I'll do a 3ply). Give an explanation of why it is suitable and knit a 3" x3" swatch to demonstrate its suitability.
I reckon each kit will take an average of 3 hours to complete. There are 40 kits and then there is the written work (say 10 hours...maybe, maybe more), plus I have to do a final project that takes at least 25 hours: I have to design, wash, prepare, dye, blend, spin and knit or weave something like a scarf. It is almost enough to cause me to give up before I really begin.  Homework is due April 15th (I'm not sure but let's assume it is around there), and that is 6 months away. That sound like a lot, but in terms of days it is 180 days.
So here is the maths: 40kits x 3hrs = 180hrs + 25hrs major project time = 205 hrs + 10 hours written homework = 215 hrs.
Assuming that in that 6 months I will be in a workshop for 4 days, away on holidays for 9, and out of commission for one reason or another for, say, oh 5 days, that means that I would only have 180-18 = 162 days available, which is about 1.25 hours a day will get me to the finish line. Put another way that means finish one kit every two days. Sounds possible except I work full time and sleep at least 8 hrs/day. I usually have 2 hours a day available. This doesn't leave a lot of room. I better get crackin'.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Black Walnuts

Black walnut.
From the left: handspun Suffolk x Corriedale
dyed with alum mordant and just above it,
cotswold with no mordant, a dye note showing
the colours achieved by using various mordants,
nuts, husks and walnut leaves, 
It's fall and the fall storms haven't yet rolled in. They have threatened but have not quite come ashore here. I swore last year that before they did and trees are blown bare, I would find some black walnut hulls and leaves to so some natural dye experiments. And while I was at it, I would gather some chestnut leaves while they were still somewhat green and hanging onto the tree. I suspect the colour is richer before they start to dry and fall off the tree and last year I got a nice silver grey from some dried out leaves. So just before a big storm that, in the end, petered out, I visited a friend's walnut trees, then a chestnut tree, and laden down with bits of tree, went home to experiment.
The first Black Walnut hulls experiment turned out to be, well, successful and interesting but a bit of a blah brown. If you like browns, it is just okay, not a rich deep brown, not a subtle tan although the Cotswold with no mordant has a nice sophisticated camel that grows on you, but then again, Cotswolds large cellular scale structure reflects light so well that any dye becomes lustrous, no matter how blah.
The dye room with black walnut hulls soaking,
black walnut ,leaves soaking and some drying,
elixir of black walnut in jars,
fibre being dyed in a crock pot with black walnut
elixer and a bucket of chestnut leaves soaking.
I went back to the books, and to Google and read up on how to get a darker colour. After all, it is called Black Walnut and I'd like a black or at least a deep deep chocolate brown. Turns out my blah brown is loved by many according to Google and satisfied with it, that is what they aim for. However, others have discovered that a heavy influx of iron: rusty nails, or using an old iron dye pot, failing that, spoonfuls of ferrous oxide added to the brew will get you to that more satisfying deep dark brown to almost a black. That is tomorrows attempt.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Boats and ropes

I recently went to the Victoria Classic Wooden Boat Festival and snapped a few pictures of ropes, lines and cordage and how they are used on boats. It made me wonder what rope was, and what cordage was. Were they the same or was there a distinction? If you just look at twisted (spun) rope and forget plaited or braided rope (we need to keep sane here), is there any difference in spinning technique other than having a humongous spinning wheel? And what is the history of rope?

So here is my understanding... Oh, and by the way, rope isn't made with humongus spinning wheels, it is laid out in a long length and twisted from one end... First you have fibre. You spin fibre and you get yarn. If you spin the fibre to the right or clockwise, it has what is called a Z-twist or, in rope language if you look down a length of rope and the twist is to the right (Z), it is known as having a right hand lay; if the twist is to the left (S) it is a left hand lay. If you twist two (or more) Z-spun or right hand laid yarns together in the opposite direction, and spin/twist them S then you have a strand which is left hand laid. Take strands and twist them together (opposite twist than the strand) and you have rope. Got that? One more time:

  • Fibre spun Z = yarn
  • Yarns spun S = strands
  • Strands spun Z = rope
Now here is where we get all salty and nautical. A 3 strand rope is known as a hawser-laid rope.  A four-strand laid rope is called shroud-laid. And now if you take 3 or more ropes and twist them you get a cable.  A 3 strand rope is very flexible, easy to handle and good for making knots.  A 4 strand rope is firmer, rounder and hence good when you need more surface to grip, say going through a pulley.
Cordage is the term used for less than 3/8"diameter and rope for more than 3/8" diameter.  I suppose you can argue about the thickness but the idea is this: fibre, string, cord, rope, cable.
I came across an interesting video showing some recent history of rope making but for something about older technology check out the Native American Cordage web page.