Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Yes Mum. This is MY blog

from the book by Judy Olausen
Almost a year ago, I put a bookmark/favorite shortcut on my parents computer to my blog. I figured it was a good way for them to see what is going on and keep in touch with me. I thought this would be of interest because 1) I am their daughter and 2) my mother also dusted off her spinning wheel and loom after letting them languish for 20 years and fibre is once again addictive. I must admit she didn't seem as enthralled as I thought she might be, mothers always being enthusiastic about the creative attempts of their offspring. But I passed it off to a boring blog post that day. That or an honest response to 'oh no, not another self-promoting or let-it-all-hang-out-there diary/blog'.
My mother phoned yesterday to say, with surprise in her voice, that's YOUR blog. Yes, Mum, this is MY blog. Bored while waiting for a web page to load, she decided to try the bookmark thinking it might be more interesting than a s.l.o.w.l.y l.o.a.d.i.n.g. page. Of course this was before she actually realized it was a link to MY blog. I guess my readership hit numbers will now double.
P.S. I always like to include a photo, so I thought of a wonderful book that came out in 2000, Mother by Judy Olausen, in which her photographs depict her mother as the quintessential mother of the pre-women's liberation era. The cover photo here is titled 'Mother as Coffee Table'.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Afghanistan, rugs and Christmas

I received an email from my brother recently who is now in Afghanistan and there, in all that chaos, he had the time to read my blog ---he's probably reading it right now. Imagine that. Hello Bro'!--and inspired by fibre, he sent along a link to an article about the rugs of Afghanistan which had a lovely quote which he quoted and I in turn quote him quoting the article. "Read this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seema-jilani/the-carpets-of-afghanista_b_718812.html  - I especially like her description of what to do with an Afghan carpet: 
The rug is not just for you to place in your living room, or to be trampled upon by high heels at a cocktail party while people swirl martinis. Women have sewn their lives into it. They have whispered about their husbands, gossiped about in-laws, and exchanged riveting hopes and dreams while their fingers diligently worked the loom. Take your shoes off and don't tread heavily. Respect their stories." 
Spinning on the ferry as we came through Active Pass
to Victoria
 Doesn't that make you think twice when stepping on a carpet?! And imagine thinking about rugs and weaving while serving in Afghanistan.

Christmas travel spinning 
Here, we visited a our families over Christmas, we took the ferry to Vancouver to have Christmas Eve with the in-laws' then the ferry to Victoria to have Christmas dinner with my family. With so many ferry rides and the time spent in the car gave me productive homework time.
We missed my brother (and his family, who are in England), at Christmas and we watched the Canadian troops celebrating Christmas in Afghanistan on the news. We didn't see him but then, maybe he was busy reading this blog.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Homework - am I there yet? NO

Homework, as far as the eye can see...
I have been busy lately...and stuck in the colour wheel assignment ...but I have lost track of where I am and how far I have to go. Let me sum it up...a looooong way! As panic is starting to set in, I thought I better get on top of where I was so I stacked everything up on table, organized the assignments into three categories: Finished (i use that term loosely), halfway there and still to do. Then I counted: 9 items done, 9 half way done and 22 still to go!
And this is just the actual spinning, then there are the written assignments, the 10 book reviews and the spinning major 25hour project.
Then I figured out how many days to go -- 109 days. Well, that's not so bad. It's still possible. Maybe I will have time for Christmas baking.
On the left: done; Centre: half done; Right: kits waiting for action.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lost in a colour wheel

You might be wondering where I am with my Master Spinners homework. Well, I am stuck in a viscous circle - the twelve colour wheel circle. It is not hard, nor boring, nor tedious, it is just taking time. The assignment: Create a colour wheel. It requires weighing each colour, then blending colours equally by weight, then spinning them and finally create a colour wheel. Here's how it works: take three primary colour merino roving - yellow, blue and red. Blend each of the primary colours with another primary to get three more colors, eg. red + blue = violet. Keep in mind that the new blend has to be homogeneous - blended very carefully, striped colours will be rejected. So I card very careful using the drum carder, running the new blend through the drum 3 - 4 times. Then take the new colour (or, figure out the correct portions of the primary colours that produced the new colour and add to it to et the new colour - you can see where this is getting confusing) and blend with the primary on each side eg. violet + blue = violet/blue, violet+red= ...hey wait a minute, what does that make and where is it? Excuse me while I card more wool....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fur, hair and wool - what's it all about?

A human hair
Photo done by Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM)
© 2010 University of Minnesota Duluth
What's the difference between fur, wool and hair? This is a question that has been bugging me for a long time, so I tried to find out the answer. Let me tell you right up front that I didn't find a simple answer. The following is what I have gleamed but please post a comment if you can add any clarity to this question.
Some of this confusion seems to be a matter of word usage, as they are all the same protein (keratin), so technically they are all hair. However, some features that help distinguish the usage of terms: The thickness for example. Hair has lower density with 500 follicles/sq inch although not all are active at the same time, so let's say @100-200 follicles per sq inch should define hair. Sheep wool on the other hand, have up to 60,000 follicles/sq inch (Merino) and if the density is high, like a sea otter which has one of the highest densities at 800,000 per sq inch, the hair is referred to as fur. 
Another characteristic that some use to distinguish between terms is the growth pattern. Fur grows to a certain length then stops, while wool and hair keeps on growing. Although, this all depends on species and genetics, but generally this seems a good separator. Fur tends to have a major shedding time annually. Only the primitive sheep (eg. Soay, Orkney, Hebridean) and the so called 'hair' sheep breeds (eg.Saint Croix, West African, Wiltshire Horn) shed annually. 
Churro sheep wool. SEM
Photo by Dave Lewis and the Ohio 
 Agriculture Research and Development Center in Wooster
Wool tends to be the term for sheep fleece. Some sheep have kemp (thick hairs) in amongst the wool usually in is found in certain breeds of sheep and certain locations (eg. rear end), other sheep and Llamas have double coats with longer guard-type hairs designed to shed water and shorter insulating down fur (eg. Icelandic, Navajo Churro) for warmth.
Photo by Dave Lewis and the Ohio 
 Agriculture Research and Development Center in Wooster
And then there is the more technical characteristics, like the cellular structure. The hair shaft is made of cuticle cells (keritine) that form scales, overlapping each other and pointing towards the tip. The cells form a protective coating around the cortex (inner area). In the fine merino wool, the cells are one layer thick while human hair can be 10 layers thick. This cellular structure is different for each type of hair (eg. eyelashes, whiskers, hair) from different animals. The scanning electron microscope photos here show some of the different structures. Look at the difference between human hair, churro sheep and angora rabbit in the pictures here. But, it doesn't help much in distinguishing hair from fur from wool.
Alpaca  Light microscope photo
showing the medulation (dark areas).
Photo by Dave Lewis and the Ohio 
 Agriculture Research and Development Center in Wooster
Inside the hair shaft is the cortex. This is the middle of the hair/wool/fur. If the centre of the cortex is hollow we call the core 'medulla' or a medulated hair. The inner core can be a consistently hollow core, or contain sections which are hollow. This medulation can provide insulation, hence hairs with no medulation hold heat less well than medulated hairs. Alpacas and Llamas have medulated hairs while sheep do not, hence Alpaca wool is a better insulator than wool.
Angora. Note the very interesting V-shape cell structure
SEM Photo by Dave Lewis and the Ohio
 Agriculture Research and Development Center in Wooster
So why is this interesting? For a few reasons. The structure of a fibre creates its characteristics for: heat retention; strength, elasticity, felting tendency, light reflection, etc. And also because I want to be able to analyze a fibre and have a way to figure out if it is Mountain Goat or sheep wool or from the Coast Salish wool dog.