Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Last Post

[Photo: Tree with wire rope
growing right through it]
Yesterday was the annual Christmas bird count. Our team consisted of Annie who is doing her PhD on sea birds, Russ, a biologist who has done a lot of bird research at all sorts on interesting places, mostly on islands, and me. I was their handicap to help even out such an expert team. We were in charge of the southern section of Newcastle Island. Three other teams who also knew their birds covered the centre, southern and northern sections. In all it took 36 man/woman hours, or around three hrs per team. How many birds? From memory and just from my team: 1 hairy woodpecker, tons of chickadees, 2 ravens, 3 eagles, a dozen golden crowned kinglets, 2 towhees, 4 sparrows, 16 robins, 6 Anna's hummingbirds, and a host of LBJs (Little Brown Jobs)...hmmm....doesn't seem enough for a 3hr hunt. Annie and Russ were able to identify most of these just by their calls.
[Photo: X tree]
[Photo: Tree with a handle]
[Photo: Miss 2012's last day]
Along the way we saw a few interesting trees which I photographed and thought I would share.

And tonight is the last night of 2012. We will be sending off the old year with written promises of what we are NOT going to take into the new year. These promises will be written on paper and stuffed down Miss 2012's top just before she is burned at the stake on the stroke of midnight. Say goodnight and goodbye to Miss 2012.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

It takes a long time to create a masterpiece

[Photo: Black kid mohair and tussah silk]

As regular readers (my mother, my sister) of my blog know, having spun for three short sweet years in my youth before putting spinning away, I am now endeavoring to roll 25 years of non-spinning, into 6 years of intensive focused and guided catch-up. Hmm, one could read I am attempting to recapture my youth through spinning. Anyway, in other words, I am paying for those lost 25 years by working on a Master Spinning Certificate from Olds College. I am now in year four of the six year program.  
[Photo: Blending on cards and making punis]
Each year you are required to do a major spinning project--this is on top of the regular years worth of spinning homework. The first year required a project that took 25 hrs. This includes selecting the fleece/fibres, cleaning, carding, spinning and, as long as you did it yourself, the weaving or knitting into a finished product. By year three we were up to 50 hours. Year four requires 75hrs! You may think this seems counter-intuitive. As the years go by, one gets better at spinning, so you would think it would take less time. Why by year four, I should be able to dash off an exquisite evening lace shawl in an evening or two of spinning and a weekend of knitting. But it doesn't work that way. Spinning doesn't get any faster, it just gets better. Last year I timed myself and it turns out I can spin and ply a yarn a meter per minute. I timed myself again yesterday and that hasn't changed. It is just my spinning that has. I can spin a decent yarn now. My yarn has integrity even at 1 meter/minute. 
[Photo: Blending on a fur carder]
75 hours sounds like a lot of time but considering I have not finished the spinning of the yarn for this years project and haven't yet begun knitting, the 25+ hours I have already clocked, points out that 75 hours will be a breeze to achieve. Reflect on my lack of knitting prowess, and you understand it will take me at least a hundred hours to knit something given my penchant for mistakes leading to re-knitting a second or third time.
So, what has taken the 25 hours so far?  
Planning 3 hrs; teasing, 4.5 hrs; carding, weighing and blending, 5.5 hours; sampling 2 hours; spinning, 6 hrs; changing my mind, 2 minutes; dying, 3 hours; re-sampling, 30 minutes; spinning up a different batch 5 hrs 15 minutes. Total 29 hours 47 minutes.

This year I decided to make another Holden Shawlette, since 

  1. I have extensive experience with this pattern having ripped it out and re-knit it at least three times, 
  2. having made many, many mistakes in the Holden Shwalette I just finished, I can easily recognize mistakes earlier in the knitting process, and
  3. I now know that I should stick to the pattern and cast on the required number of stitches and not think that I, a mere beginner, can willy nilly adjust lace knitting patterns.

[Photo: Subtle silk colours peek
 out of the black kid mohair]
The spinning goal: to spin a delicate lace weight two ply (two ply highlights the lace pattern) that is sophisticated, subtle, soft, and silky. I selected a black super soft and fine kid mohair and blended it 85/15% mohair and tussah silk. I loved the result and after spinning 408 meters decided the subtle sophistication needed a little jazzing up so I experimented and threw silk into various dyepots to find just the right colour to add the needed jazz. I ended up sprinkle dying the silk using a variety of harmonious colours. Next I experimented more with the spinning technique and blended the silk and mohair on hand cards, then rolled it into punis to spin in a semi-woolen technique. But that didn't produce much difference in the yarn (i was looking for more loft) from the semi-worsted method and it took a lot longer, so back to the fur drum carder and I blended the fibres into large batts and stripped off sections to spin in a semi-worsted style.
Stay tuned for adventures in the knitting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sleigh ride - Malahat style

[Photo: Click to see a bigger picture of  3
lanes of traffic, the middle going north
 and the 2 outer going south

Christmas day on the wet coast (aka west coast). A day to spend time with family, so we headed south to Victoria. But up on the infamous Malahat the wet rain turned to slush and then to snow. The west coast style snow--slippery. This is where you can categorize cars and I can tell you that while Jaguars look good parked along the side of the road, we saw three hopelessly stuck in 2 inches of snow. No traction whatever. Now this may be a fault of clueless drivers or drivers who don't spend money on good winter tires or bad snow design. But three, 3, THREE, Jags! By the way, vans, Cadillac and motor-homes towing a car are also bad bets in this snow.
It is hard to knit while all this excitement is going on: texting, a friend who had kayaked across in the storm and was wondering what the road conditions were as she was an hour behind us; phoning my sister who was 30 minutes behind (and wisely decided to turn back) and receiving emails from my brother telling us the conditions were terrible and here was a link to the road web cam to prove it. I emailed back with a picture showing we already knew that but to keep an eye on that web cam as we were coming up to it and would wave as we passed it. Modern technology is wonderful.
I did manage to knit 3 inches in 3 hours, but only had two inches to show for it, having had to rip out one inch. However, I think I am 'getting' it. It's all about eye patterns (as opposed to project instruction patterns) and knowing how to see them. This instruction pattern is based on 6 rows, but every second row is a plain purl row, used to bind things together. So really it is just a three row pattern. Easy as pie, really. Except, somehow I can't make pie easily but I am working on it.
The yarn is 70% Romney wool, 10 % mohair and 20% Alpaca, purchased already dyed and in a roving from Hummingbird Fibres. I spun it up to a fingerling weight which I thought might be perfect for a simple lace scarf. I am hoping to have the scarf done as a Christmas gift for next year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Flax to linen

[Photo: Tow and line linen]
I have been spinning linen...or flax? I guess I have been spinning flax and at some magical Rumplestilkskinian moment the flax turns into linen. And like the captive maiden's spinning, mine too turned into gold!
[Picture from Franz Eugen Köhle'sr,
Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen 1897
I didn't think I would enjoy spinning flax but I do. There is something about the neat, tidy, golden threads that tugs at your ancestral memories. It is comforting. Well...maybe not comforting in the same way that spinning wool is comforting, but linen satisfies. I don't know why, I am just reporting how it effects me. And satisfying is the way I feel after spinning flax into gold linen.

"The life of a flax plant is 100 days of thought..."

[Photo:Flax stem cross-section
Photo: Ryan R. McKenzie
So here are a few things I learned along the way. Flax is a plant and the fibre comes from the inner bark or bast of the stem, so the fibres are, at the longest, the length of the plant, maybe around 2 feet. To make a long story short, during the processing of separating the fibre from the plant, you can end up with a pile of short fibres (the tow) and a pile of long fibres (the line). Okay, okay linen spinners, I know, I know, I am over simplifying, but we have to keep up the interest of non-spinners. If you want to know more about the very interesting processing of flax, check out this beautiful video 'Be Linen' video. I digress...

Each of these types of fibres can be spun. The tow will produce a fuzzy yarn and the line...oh, the line flax, sigh, will produce a beautiful golden yarn. There are a variety of spinning techniques from using the classical distaff to accordion folding of the fibres. Each method is designed o allow only a few threads to draft out into the yarn yet also allowing those threads to grab their following threads to keep a continuous line of yarn forming as you spin. Then, you can spin wet or dry. Wet spun will smooth the yarn and give it a higher gloss, and dry spun allows more frizz to show. Then we can get more technical and spin with water or spit. Yes, spit, as in drool, saliva. I haven't seen proof of this, but rumour has it that saliva works on the flax enzymes, making the fibres glue together, while water helps control the flax and makes it softer, easier to spin and creates a smoother yarn, but doesn't create the glue.  

But here's the can blend linen with wool, or cotton, or silk or....who would have thought? Endless possibilities!

EDITED Dec 31, to add 2 more pictures.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Another story--A thank you gift

[Photo: Soapstone carving with
 First Nations design]
Here's another story. A heart warming story told to me over lunch the other day.  Jill (not her real name), a woman I know went to an aboriginal conference four years ago. It was a three or four day conference held at a large hotel. While there, she met one of the hotel staff members who admired a bag she carried. The bag had a First Nations design silk-screened on to it, designed by a friend, so it meant a lot to her. Jill, who coordinates a major program to support young aboriginal children and their families, has a big heart. When she was leaving at the end of the conference she gave him the bag. He was overwhelmed with her generosity.
Four years later, she returned to the same hotel for another conference and was surprised to see him and even more surprised that he remembered her amongst the thousands of hotel guests that he probably meets every year. He was excited to see her telling her he had been searching for her--for four years!   He only knew her first name, but at every aboriginal conference held at the hotel he would ask participants if they knew Jill. He never gave up and sure enough, the right conference came along and someone told him 'Yes', there was a Jill at the conference who looked like the woman he described.
He told her he was so grateful for the bag that he took it with him to South America where he knew a soap stone carver. He had the carver make a few things for her. She had just received the package and she opened her bag (you can tell Jill is more of a bag than a purse person) and brought out a large package and opened it up. Tissue paper protected a large item and many smaller ones. She carefully opened each item up and placed them on the table. They took up half the table: earrings, pendants, necklaces and a large flat panel carved with the same First Nations design that the bag had on it that had meant so much to her.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Selling my yarn

[Photo:One of Marks (ImagePlay) cards]
I am a spinner. I am learning to knit and weave to use up my spun yarns, but let's face it, I am a spinner. People often ask what do 'I do' with my spinning. I am very honest in my sheepish (no pun intended) replies 'Oh, it just piles up.' And it does. The pile of yarn gets bigger and bigger. Strangely, the pile of fleece does not get smaller. So I have an ever growing pile but every now and then, usually just before Christmas, a solution comes up -- a craft sale! So this weekend, I took my pile of yarns to a friends house where we set up in her living room and participated in the island craft walk. About 15 craftspeople take part and islanders and visitors walked from house to house looking and buying handmade items.
[Photo: ImagePlay]
I don't sell much, but I appreciate their appreciation and I enjoy the socializing. This year three of us shared a living room filled with handmade items. Cathy had made some lovely colourful pony string puppets and dolls, while Heather had shibori silk scarves and a few felted items, including a gorgeous black top with bright needle-felted elegant flowers--it sold very quickly and way too cheaply. I also brought Mark's cards with his photographs on them and his sales were as much as mine which goes to show that small purchases are sought after.
Heather and I set up our spinning wheels and Cathy setup her rug hooking frame. We gave the salesroom a working studio ambiance. We had over 30 people come through and Heather plied them with mulled wine and hot chocolate which may have contributed to the loosening of purse strings. While people shopped and we chatted, I spun and spun and added yet more yarn to my growing pile. Next Christmas season look for black mohair blended with silk. Perfect for lacework.