Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wasn't that a party!

[PhotoKeith, the ferry captain]
When it rains it pours, and it comes down in clumps. Today it was raining boats and batteries. First my scale for weighing fibre needed a new battery, so it was out of use. Then my electric assist BionX bike battery was declared dead. They costs a fortune so I may have to revert to old fashioned muscle power all the way (think hills, think mountains. Uggg). Then we went to town in the boat to visit friends and when we returned to the marina to come back the boat would not start. Battery problems. So we had to take the ferry.
We got to the ferry passenger waiting room with 30 minutes to kill. Three people dressed for the Arctic, were there, carrying large plastic garbage bags full of something heavy. Turns out they had sunk only an hour or so ago. They were in an open 16ft boat heading over to the island and it was a bit rough out. I suspect the boat might have been a bit overloaded, so when they took water over the transom, the pump couldn't keep up and they took on more and more water, quicker and quicker. Two of them were just here for a week from Toronto (they came, they sunk, they left). The water came up so quick that the woman barely had time to dial 911 saying 'we're going down'. Luckily there was a boat nearby who heard their yells and hauled them in. Interestingly, the woman made the rescuer save her cell phone before she was pulled from the water.
Other passengers waiting for the ferry had already heard the news on CBC. News does travel very fast.
By the time we all heard the story, the ferry was 30 minutes late. We phoned only to be told the ferry would be an hour late as it had had a collision with another boat who had been speeding across the harbour with no lights on.
It wasn't until the next day when a neighbour told us the whole story. A friend had stopped by to ask for a ride around the island to look for his truck. Apparently there had been a party and he couldn't remember where he had left his truck. He mentioned a few people who had been at the party and it included he driver of the lightless boat as well as the driver of the sunken boat. Must have been quite the party!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Coast Salish Blankets - a Mass Spec Update

[PhotoSalish robe, 1838-1842, Wilkes Expedition,
from the Smithsonian collection, #E2124-0]
Big news in the Coast Salish weaving world. Researchers from York University analyzed nine Salish textiles (blankets, trump lines) at the Smithsonian to try to determine what fibres were used. They used a mass spectometry technique (a way to identify molecules by their mass) to solve the question 'is there dog hair in the blankets?'  
This question has been nagging at those interested in these blankets for a long time. It is a weird question. We have Coast Salish oral history telling us this is so. We have written logs/diaries by early explorers like Capt. Vancouver, also saying dog wool was used. We have artists who wrote and even painted what was probably a wool dog (Paul Kane). But we still want 'proof'. Interesting that 'proof' has a hierarchy, which I suspect goes something like this: artwork somewhere at the bottom, then oral history, written diaries and logs, official documents, and then there is scientific 'proof' at the top. And even scientific proof has hierarchies depending on what is trying to be proven.  'Proof' has layers. One layer of proof builds upon another until you have the full story of the 'ultimate truth'. Different layers take a weak proof like a myth and builds onto it. Each layer builds more certainty in the proof. Add more layers, and the myth solidifies until you have an irrefutable fact. More proof makes it more solid, like a textile.
[PhotoSalish robe, from the
 Smithsonian collection,E1891-A]
With the wool dog fibre, the proof story goes something like this:

  1. Oral history tells of the wool dog and it's wool being used in blankets and robes..
  2. Early explorers (Capt. Vancouver) records the use of dog wool in textiles.
  3. Early artists (Paul Kane) painted a dog that could be a wool dog and wrote of wool dogs, but artists license means this in not 'proof that the dog existed or looked like what Paul Kane sketched or painted'.
  4. Eye-balling the fibre in Salish blankets show at least two different fibres, but many animals, like the Mtn Goat have an outer coat and a downy coat. So even if there are two different types of fibre, it doesn't prove that they belong to two different animals.
  5. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) was used to look at fibre magnified to see differences, but it wasn't reliable for fibres that are very old as fibres can wear. A new fibre will easily show the scales on the outside but old fibres rub and wear down those scales, so it isn't conclusive when looking at the outside of the fibre. And even if the old fibre was in really good shape, we need a wool dog fibre as the baseline to compare with. How can we identify a wool dog fibre if we don't know what one looked like in the first place? No wool dog, no proof.
  6. Carbon isotope analysis - This research showed that some fibres came from an animal that ate a diet of marine food. Wool dogs were fed salmon, but carbon isotope analysis can only prove that the animal did eat marine food but can not 'prove' that the marine food was salmon, nor that animal eating the marine food is a dog. See this blog for more info.
  7. 1997, Osteometry (analyzing the bones) showed that there were two species of dog in the Pacific Northwest coast. This helped prove that there was intentional breeding to keep the two species apart. Why would they want to? There must have been a benefit in keeping the breeds pure, but what that reason was we can only surmise it was for the wool of one of the species. A forensic artist used the bones to sketch out what the dog could look like and there is a resemblance to the Paul Kane sketch and painting. But that doesn't prove it.
  8. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) analysis - split hairs. Someone came up with the idea that if SEM wasn't reliable for old worn fibres, then what about the inside of the fibre? Split the hair and then magnify it. Lo and behold, it turns out that the inner hair tells a lot and is very useful for telling fibres apart. But, you still need to know what a wool dog fibre looks like in the first place.
  9. Then, in 2006 in a dusty drawer somewhere in the Smithsonian, someone finds Mutton, a wool dog' or at least what is left of Mutton -- his pelt, which had been donated to the museum sometime. We now have a wool dog fibre! We have the baseline to compare old robes and blankets with.
  10. Back to SEM and now we can compare a Mtn Goat fibre with a wool dog fibre. Check out the picture in this blog posting.
  11. DNA analysis has been used to identify DNA in a Salish Blanket as being from a dog. Other blankets showed DNA from a Mtn. Goat. So DNA can be used to identify fibres in textiles. We are still waiting to hear more about this ongoing research at the Smithsonian.
  12. Mass spectometry - identifies dog hair in the textiles and this is the research that was recently announced.
Yes, there now seems to be 'scientific proof that dog hair was used in some Salish blankets. Or put another way, there is now 'scientific proof' that what people said, saw and wrote about did indeed exist. And, we now have a host of techniques that can be used to help identify dog hair being used in blankets.
Click here to see all my posts on the wool dog and Salish blankets.
Here are a couple of books you might be interested in: 
Working with Wool, a Coast Salish Legacy . Although it looks at the history of the Cowichan Sweaters, it covers the history of the wool too.
And Paula Gustafson's Salish Weaving . Although it is out-of-print, it is currently the best book available on the history of Coast Salish weaving. I am awaiting eagerly Leslie Tupper's book which I believe should be close to being available.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The commute home

[PhotoWalking home]
[PhotoWalking along
the waterfront]
[PhotoView from the boat]
[PhotoView from the golf cart]
This is my wordless Wednesday posting, albeit a day late.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Spider Silk

[Photo by Victor Patel, Wikipedia]
I am always amazed that beings other than humans can spin and not only spin but their spinning is the envy of other beings, enough that those beings covet the spinning and use it. Take moths and silk. Bugs, yes bugs, make silk and we humans have learned how to unwind the moth's cocoon and use the silk threads. Or birds, like hummingbirds, who use spider silk to help hold together their nests of moss. It's right out of a fairy tale, nests made of spiders silk and moss! Or take us humans, we too can use the spider silk. Humans have used spider silk for gloves (a short-lived fashion in France), making fishing lines, lures (Solomon Islands), nets (Asia) and even bandages. and recently works of woven art. See my earlier blog about the Golden Orb spider and the incredible weaving made from it. Here's a video of it:


And check out this TedTalk below to find out more about spiders and spider silk:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shetland wool - It's a first!

Shetland wool has now received protected status. Just as Champagne, or Feta and Camembert Cheese is protected, ie. you can't sell products using those names, unless of course, you have produced them in those geographic areas that hold the right to use those names. So Shetland wool is the first non-food item to be protected in the EU.
More good news to the Shetland Islanders who are finally making more money from shearing their sheep than it costs to shear them.  

see earlier blog about the Shetlands.

[PhotoNot perfect but close enough
 to 1 TPI]
Speaking of Shetland wool, I have an assignment to spin a 2-ply yarn at 1 Twist Per Inch. Sounds easy. It wasn't! I finally achieved something close to that using a lovely Shetland combed top that I bought from Jamieson and Smith Woolbrokers in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. This is a beautiful wool, a pleasure to spin and knowing the fineness one can spin this, it was, in a way, a shame to spin it so thick. But, I was pleased with how it came out. Now I just wished I had purchased more. But you can order it online here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

In the light of day

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind came from an unusual direction, sou'west. In the pitch black all I could see was white caps breaking and spray hitting the windshield. The waves got bigger closer to the protected gap between the islands. The wind now blew directly between. White caps where calm waters prevail.
It was hard to dock with waves breaking along the dock. With a head lamp on I managed to find extra lines to tie our boat more securely to the dock and then to Tom's boat and checked the lines on Cathy and Roger's. Then wobbled my way along the heaving dock and up the ramp and was happy to get home.
Half an hour later Roger phoned 'the dock is gone!'.
The coast guard was called and came to find the dock broken in two. The end with the boats was fine and near where it usually floated being anchored with new chain but the shore end had split, jacknifed and was blown down to the next dock. The ramp now rested one end on shore and the other below the water.
I suppose I should have used those extra lines on the dock rather than the boats.

Off the wheel

Every now and then I get the urge to just spin. No thought to Twists Per Inch (TPI), nor Wraps Per Inch (WPI), no counting of Treadles (#T), just using a standard wheel Ratio (R), say 8:1,using a Length of Draft (L) as feels natural, no formulas written down like:
TPI=Ratio*#T/L or 
R=L*TPI/#T or
None of that! I just want brainless spinning. Spinning for pleasure. And pleasure comes from colour and feel. So it was only natural to go straight for my stash of Hummingbird Fibre and spin up a blend of 60%Island grown organic Romney wool, 20% Silk and 20% Mohair.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Scarf project

[Photo2.25 wool/llama scarves]
I am still learning to weave, but more importantly, I am learning more about fibre. How does different fibre structures react in a weaving? And why you "full" a weaving as part of the finishing. To demonstrate.....I decided to play with various blends of white wool and black llama and create a scarf that used different percentage blends that would give various shades of gray. I wanted a scarf for my husband, hence it needed to be ‘manly’ and the shades of greys produced for the blends looked very suitable. I decided to warp enough for weaving two or three scarves (the first hint that indecision or impreciseness doesn't always work).
Preparation: I carded washed wool and llama separately and created a series of batts of each fibre. I then blended the fibres in different percentages in the drum carder and ran them through twice again to get homogenous blends. I created a variety of llama/wool blends: 80/20; 70/30; 66/33; 50/50; 33/66; 30/70 and 20/80 for the warp. I used the 50/50 blend for the weft.
Spinning: I sampled spinning yarns at different ratios and settled on 6:1 ratio using a semi-worsted backward draft. I counted the treadling which was 8 out and 2 in, producing: WPI of 12; TPI of 2.25; & Twist Angle 25˚. Weaving: The different blends were used in the warp on my 4 shaft Leclerc Artisan loom. The first scarf was done as a plain weave. The second scarf was done as a 1:3 twill but I forgot to hook up my peddles correctly hence, ended up with 1:3 on one side and 3:1 on the other. I did not have enough warp for a third scarf but there was enough warp for me to do a sample and try the twill again, this time hooking up the treadles correctly and was able to weave 14 inches. This became a neck cowling rather than a sample as I think it had the nicest handle before fulling. This was my favorite and I really regretted not having enough warp to do that third scarf!
Finishing: The scarves were taken off the loom and then the fringes were twisted and knotted. Mistakes in the weaving were fixed. The scarves were then taken to a friend, Norah Curtis, who is a sweater designer and also designs the wool fabric for the sweaters. She is an expert at fulling fabric. I did worry about the different blends shrinking/fulling at different rates. I expected them too but was not sure about how much difference would occur and how much it might impact the scarves but Norah and I checked every minute to see what was happening and were ready to pull them out of the wash if needed. Norah has a top load washing machine and we filled it with hot water 38˚-40˚ with Dawn dishwashing soap. Norah looked the fabric and said 3 -4 minutes would probably do it but we still checked every minute. We turned the washer on to slow and set the one minute timer. At the one minute mark we stopped the machine and squeezed the scarves to check them. At 4 minutes we decided they were ready. We removed the scarves, drained the washer and put the scarves back in for a rinse and spin cycles. They came out beautifully. The final finishing was to let them hang to dry, then steam them as they lay flat and then left them to dry. We measured the two scarves and the neck cowls before fulling and after:

[Photo:Twill before fulling]
Left: Twill before fulling
[PhotoTwill after fulling ]
Right: after fulling 

[PhotoPlain weave before
[PhotoPlain weave after fulling]

Left: Plain weave before fulling
Right:  Plain weave after fulling

[PhotoNeck Cowl before

Left: Neck Cowl twill before fulling
Right: Neck Cowl twill after fulling
[PhotoNeck Cowl twill after fulling]

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pit cookout

[PhotoRoot veggies waiting to be steamed.  Squash
and onions  (ok, not roots), potatoes, yams,
and sweet potatoes] 
Last weekend friend Trudy (longtime nickname 'Carbon'...for reasons you will soon understand) had a pit cookout. This is a method for steaming root vegetables that the Pacific Northwest First Nations used. Nancy Turner, an Ethnobotanist and neighbour, couldn't make it but she sent instructions which went something like this:

[PhotoAdding the veggies]

  1. Dig a pit two feet deep, line it with rocks and build a fire in it.
  2. When the rocks are red hot, remove the fire and wood.
  3. Place a wood pole about 6" diameter into the middle.
  4. Cover rocks with dirt, then layer salal and sword ferns, 2" deep.
  5. Place veggies on the greenery, add more slal and sword fern.
  6. Cover everything with a wet burlap or old cotton pillowcases, or cedar mat.
  7. Remove the wood pole and pour two litres of water into the hole left by the wood pole.
  8. Quickly shovel the dirt onto the burlap to stop the steam from escaping.
  9. Go for a walk for and hour or two.
[PhotoRemoving dirt and burlap]
It worked and the veggies were wonderful! The salal and swordfern added, a je n'est sais pas, a little smokey, a little woodsy, and a lot of flavour!

[Photo:The cooked to perfection veggies]
After the successful dinner, Trudy sent out an email 'And in the lost and found department: Found, one gray wool hat. Lost, one wireless home phone.
Did you look in the pit? replied one attendee.
Apparently, they had. A cell phone dialed and they put their ears to the pit, but alas, no ringing.
It wasn't until the next day, the pit was dug out again, and there was the phone.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A problem gift

[PhotoSuffolk lock being identified]
Someone gave me a fleece sample, a lock of fleece washed and another still dirty, with a promise that if I liked it, I could have the whole fleece. A gift. A friend of theirs had had it in storage for a few years, was downsizing and they apparently knew a good fleece.  
I certainly liked that lock and used another gift - the recently published book Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius ...(I highly recommend it!) to identify the type of fleece. The blunt tip, the boxy lock, the fuzzy down-style crimp and knowing the local farmers penchant for certain meat sheep was a giveaway, and the book seemed to confirm that it was indeed from a Suffolk sheep. 
Suffolk is not a glamorous fleece, not rare, not special, yet it has a nice loft, is satisfying to spin and makes for a good versatile fibre to have hanging around the wool stash. It would make a good addition by itself for yarn or being useful for blends to add loft to a yarn. It's great for everyday things like mittens, sweaters, socks. So I eagerly said, "yes please. I like it." Visions of lofty yarns danced before me.
And so a big garbage bag was delivered to me in town. The bag had been ripped open a bit at the top so I looked in...and then took a closer look...and then put my glasses on and took an even closer look. Moths! Lots of them. Apparently dead but did I dare take this fleece over to the island, into my house into my wool stash? Did they lay eggs before they died? Does dead ones on the top indicate live ones down below?
I have heard horror stories about moth invasions where someone's whole wool stash was ruined (readers may remember moths were the reason Trudy's sweater was in her freezer -see that blog post).  A vision of this fleece in a freezer...my Mom's, since mine is way too small. I shook my head.
Another vision appeared, of a cloud of small moths flitting in and out of my cupboards, dancing around me, chomping up my stash. I couldn't take the risk. I knew I would regret throwing it out, but I also knew if I did bring in a moth invasion I might have a bigger regret. So I tossed it. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stuck in silk

This is some of my tahkli-spun silk drying. I emphasize that it is only 'some', a small portion of my spun silk stash. And that stash gets bigger by the week. I can't seem to stop spinning silk. I know this may seem weird, or weak, perhaps perverse to the silk uninitiated, and they may think I just need more resolve, more backbone. But I have good excuses.
First, it is silk. SILK! Silk, as in lustrous, rich, shimmering, smooth silk!  
Then there is the awe factor. On the one hand it evokes the luxurious image, on the other hand, you are spinning worm spit. Really. Insect fibres. A protein used to cocoon a silk worm until it metamorphs into a silk moth. Just think about that! Amazing. If you want blow-by-blow instructions on how to raise your own silk moths and harvest the silk, go here.
[PhotoBombyx, or cultivated silk.
SEM Photo by Dave Lewis
Then there is the colour. Silk has vibrant colour. Even without dye, silk has rich depth in colour. Even white, cultivated silk, has more white, if that is possible, more absence of colour. The silk made from wild moths, such as Muga or Tussah have either a golden or honey colour. It shimmers, with or without colour. And that shimmering is due to the structure of the silk. One long continuous fibre, which means less fuzzy ends to break up the light reflection and the structure of the fibre itself has reflective properties. The Scanning Electron Microscope image to the right shows the structure. Compare the smooth silk fibrewith a Dorset sheep fibre which has layer upon layer of cells which make up the 2-3" long fibre.
[PhotoDorset sheep.
SEM Photo byDave Lewis ] 
And lastly, I have been spinning on my small Tahkli spindle.  It is perfect for silk because each flick of the fingers, has that spindle spinning so fast and for so long, that it gives a high twist to the silk.  And the Tahkli spindle fits into a purse or backpack.  In other words, I carry it with me all the time, ready to pull it out of the bag at a moments notice and start spinning at airports, in cars, on ferries, at work, while camping, where ever I am.  As a famous anthropologist Ed Franquemont, pointed out, when asked what is faster, a spindle or a spinning wheel?:
[PhotoMy Tahkli spinning kit]
" A wheel is faster by the hour, and a spindle faster by the week."
And so, with Tahkli spindle in my bag, I am fated to keep spinning silk.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Salt Spring Island Applefest

Fullford Hall - full of apples
Last weekend was Applefest on Salts Spring Island, so we jumped into the VW Van which somehow seemed just so right for going to this event, after all, someone once said that Salt Spring Island answers the question, where have all the hippies gone? Hippies and yuppies. Gumboots and the well heeled. A bumper sticker reflects the cultures 'To hell with world peace, use your turn signals'.
First stop Ganges where we picked up tickets to the event and a map which showed all the farms and food related hot-spots on the island to visit. We timed it just right-- being 5 minutes late for the Crofton-Vesuvius ferry, or, to put it another way, 55 minutes early for the next ferry, we were first on and first off, and hence, first in line at the ticket booth. It seemed that the whole ferry load of cars were headed to the same place.
[PhotoBriony doing an
apple portrait]
Next stop, Fulford Hall, apple-central. The whole centre of the hall had tables loaded with apples, hundreds of varieties, most with descriptive notes emphasizing their best use (dessert, pies, eating, storage, etc.). I stopped in front of a plate of five perfectly formed, but with skin like russet potatoes, apples with a sign 'Winner of the Fall 2011 Fair'. There was an older man to the right of me and another to the left. They too, were looking at the same plate in puzzlement. 
'That's a pretty ugly apple' declared the one on the right.  
'Yeah', said the left nodding.  
I looked up at a woman who was on the organizing side of the table and asked ' What is it about this apple that makes it a winner?' I was expecting to hear it had a taste out-of-this-world.  
She looked a little embarrassed and hummmed and hawed and suggested 'Weelll, they get judged on a point system and uniformity is important and all five apples look like perfect replicas, so maybe they won based on their clone-like appearance.' She looked slightly doubtful.  
Right and left sides turned to look at me and both raised their eyebrows. They weren't buying it.
I looked it up later, to find this is an apple that dares to be different. A diamond in the rough. A niche apple for the discerning apple lover who appreciate its sweet nutty flavour. A good Salt Spring Island apple and to think we had been very doubtful.
'Along the walls were tables selling a variety of things every apple-lover needed: seeds; mason bee homes; pomegranate, lime, and other heat-loving trees (these islands are known for their Mediterranean-like climate....in good years); apple pies; balms and lotions; and there, in one corner was Briony, friend, professor, artist, writer, raconteur, tv personality, activist, Lady Godiva, Ms April (I think it was) in the Nude Woman's 2001 Save-SaltSpring-from-clear-cutting Calendar; painting portraits of apples-just bring your favorite apple--for $5. What a deal! There was a lineup of proud apple owners waiting their turn.
[Photo:Goat milk ice cream]
Map in hand, we headed next to a couple of organic farms and toured their gardens, and sampled their apples, buying two sweet varieties, Arlete, a sweet golden-delicious-related dessert apple developed in Switzerland and Wynachee (if I remember correctly), small but sweet.
Next, a visit to Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, where we tasted at least six different goat cheeses and then had another round of tasting and narrowed it down to two types: Blue Juliette a soft, mild blue and Montana, a mild hard sheep's milk cheese with a touch of goat milk to make it silkier. We also picked up a jug of fresh pressed pear and apple juice and goat milk ice cream cones.
Next stop was the Salt Spring Island Bread Company where we picked up a loaf of whole wheat nut. This has to be the most beautifully situated bakery. Perched on top of a moss and arbutus covered hill overlooking the southern Straits. This logically led to Ruckles Park where we had a picnic, admired the apple trees and the scenery.
And, you fibre friends might be wondering, just where is the fibre. Well, there were sheep everywhere, and I saw fleeces sticking out beneath the rafters at two farms. And, as luck would have it, it was also the Salt Spring \island Guild show at Arts Spring. There was lots of inspiration there. Two things stood out for me, a incredibly intricate black silk scarf and a blanket or throw spun and woven by Lorrie Irwin (probably from her own sheep) and dyed in gorgeous colours by Cheryl Wiebe. Of course I took my spindle and spun up some silk.