Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Crazy 8 Race

It was one of those wild, wonderful, west coast days. The Nanaimo Outrigger Crazy 8 Race, so named because the race makes a figure 8 around Newcastle and Protection Islands. Crazy, because you have to be just a little bit crazy to be racing in waters that can give you hypothermia in under 30 minutes. Crazy because, after all it is winter and even though this is the 'balmy' west coast, we are still in Canada and not Hawaii. Crazy because you never know what March brings.  
[Photo: Stellar sea lions watching the race]
And crazy because this year the herring fishing season was open. Crazy because half the race was right where the fishing fleet was fishing. Crazy because the herring were spawning and crazy because where the herring are is where eagles, Stellar sea lions, seals, gulls and great rafts of sea birds can be found in one crazy feeding frenzy.  
[Photo: Outrigger making its way
between the fleet]

Crazy because the races had to find their way between: large fish boat;, smaller herring skiffs; anchored freighters; fish nets lurking just below the surface; rafts of sea lions; bobbing seals; and through flocks of birds. And the noise! Gulls crying, eagles calling and sea lions growling and belching! And crazy because I was piloting the safety boat, trying to stay ahead of the outriggers, out of their way, not run them over, keeping them all in sight, and, like them, avoiding the wildlife (one large sea lion jumped out of the water and almost landed on the bow of the boat!) and the fleet, and taking pictures at the same time. Crazy! Slideshow here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's all in the diet

A couple of years ago I visited two abalone farms. Abalone are endangered species in Canada so it is difficult to farm them as you need to distinguish a wild abalone from a farmed one. The researchers at these farms had found a way to distinguish a live farmed abalone from a wild one by creating stripes on its shell. For a few weeks (or was it months?) they would feed them a particular plankton which created a yellow tinge to the shell as it grew. Then they would change the feed to a plankton that created a reddish tinge. Over the year this switching created red and yellow stripes on the shell. Seemed like a good solution. The problem was that one can't tell the providence of an abalone that has been separated from it's shell. End of the farms.  
[Image: Dr Natalia C. Tansil from New Scientist]
You are what you eat.  
Which brings us to a news item this week--silkworms. Various types of silkworms produces different shades of silk from white to a golden tan. The cocoons are reeled and spun and the resulting fibre is dyed. Some of these dye process produce terrible by-products and often harm the environment. But recently researchers have found that by feeding the worms mulberry leaves (their normal diet) that had been dyed, in their last four days before they cocoon themselves, that when they spin their cocoon with their silk, the silk takes on the colour of the dye. This supposedly will reduce the need to dye the silk...although it means they have to dye the mulberry, so I am not so sure we have solved something, just switched what is dyed. But the idea is interesting. Apparently they are now considering adding other compounds to the diet, things like antibacterial components for creating the silk that is used in medical procedures, like suturing. Hmmm, pink stitches.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Salish Style Indian Head Spinner

[Photo: Annie's spinner from the 70's
from when she lived on a farm in the
Cowichan Valley]
I recently dug out an old spinning wheel? head? I had stored in the laundry room and am going to oil it, replace the scotch tension brake and recondition the belt on my Singer treadle, the engine for this wheel? head?  I bought it in the late 70's early 80's. At the time I lived in a 600 sq ft house with only two power outlets which explains why I had a Singer treadle machine and a need for small items. The Indian Head spinner could be easily put away when not in use and the sewing machine could be lifted out of the treadle case and the Indian Head spinner would fit in its place.
This spinning wheel has a variety of names: Indian Head Spinner, Country Spinner, Salish Spinner, and Cowichan Spinner. They were popular with the Vancouver Island Coast Salish spinners especially in the 60's and 70's, and were instrumental for spinning the yarn for Cowichan Sweaters.  
[Photo: My spinner attached to the
Singer treadle.  The Singer has been taken
off and can be seen on the floor]
Some consisted of just the 'head' like mine (on the right) which mounted onto a Singer treadle sewing machine. Others were permanently mounted onto the Singer or Singer-like treadle, others were crafted as one unit (like Annie's on the left) and in the 70's Ashford took this one step further and started producing the Ashford Country Spinner as did Clemes and Clemes.
This is not a machine for spinning fine yarns. Forget the Scottish ring shawl yarns- those shawls that are spun so fine they can be slipped through a wedding ring. This is for thick yarns. Not necessarily dense but bulky. Everything is oversized: the bobbin, the hooks and even the orifice. This makes it perfect for spinning art yarns, thick yarns, rug yarns and for plying. It's currently having a revitalization as modern spinners are looking for exactly this type of wheel to add 'things' to the yarn. Crazy weird 'things' like miniature skull heads, beads, buttons, feathers, eye balls, etc.
Traditionally, fibre was pre-drafted into a rough roving, or, in more modern times, roving was bought. But in either case you pre-drafted a pile in preparation for the spinning.
These spinners are fast. They whip the fibre onto the bobbin. There is a Scottish tension but be prepared to have the yarn drawn in quickly. I heard a story of a Coast Salish woman who was producing yarn very, very quickly, so quickly dust and bits of farmland were causing a cloud of dirt, dust and debris around the spinner and she had to wear a mask to avoid the cloud and flying bits.

Since this is such a polpular post, I have edited to add some resources.
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 for children,Yetsa's Sweater a child learn's how a Cowichan Sweater is made.