December 30, 2010

Contemplating a Stalled WIP Mitten

Yesterday I mentioned my upcycled linen bag.  For more weeks than I'd like to contemplate, that bag has been holding some of my handspun yarn with the yarn knit into the beginning of a mitten cuff, knit in the round with some very sharp needles.  Imagine the needles sticking through the cloth, looking horrid.  (Did you know that the word horrid means bristling, like an army bristling with spears?)

I needed to find a larger size needle for the mitten cuff.  The needles weren't in the usual box.  I had already swatched more sizes of needles than I care to, trying to find that Goldilocks spot where the fabric comes out just right.

I forced myself to locate the needles and go again.  What you see pictured above has been knit and ripped back to the cuff, where I inserted some decreases and reknit.  I think I need to rip it out again, undoing part of the cuff this time, and make even more decreases to get rid of the extra fabric.  It's not a mitten made for giant sloths, by any means, but it is not quite right as it stands now.
There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like silky gum that could be tug-o-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o'-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us.
Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales
A Child's Christmas in Wales is available in audio form on the National Public Radio website, read by the author.

December 29, 2010

Green Genius bags

I recently found Green Genius biodegradable plastic double zip storage bags in the one gallon size.  According to the label, the bags should break down through anaerobic composting in a landfill within 15 years.  Their website states that after the bags break down, the final products will be water, carbon dioxide, methane, and humus.  This sounds much better than little tiny bits of plastic, which I've heard is the final product of some bags marketed as degradable.

I plan to use these instead of the ordinary plastic zipper bags I've been using for my handspinning projects, once those are worn out.

A one gallon bag is a good size for an ounce of wool and a drop spindle.  The wool comes out of the bag intact more easily than it does with a cloth bag, and the project is also more visible than it is when mewed up in a cloth bag.

Environmentally, I would probably do better to use an upcycled cloth bag, like this one that I made.  There are also cellophane bags made from true cellulose that breaks down through aerobic composting, the kind made to line kitchen composting bins.  I might switch in the future, but for now I'm going to try this.

December 28, 2010

Barber Pole Yarn is Exclusive to Handspun

Someone told me the other day that she learned to spin yarn because she wanted barber pole yarn (the kind I made into my third scarf, for example) and couldn't buy it.  A mutual friend joined in the conversation and said, yes, the only way to get it is to make it yourself or buy someone else's handspun.

I hardly ever shop for yarn, so I had no idea.

December 27, 2010

Reverse Engineering a Fibre Arts Tool

I spent a couple of hours figuring out the dimensions of that card weaving tool shown in the Old Believers film I mentioned earlier.  Took a lot of tedious measuring, scaling up, converting from metric to Imperial units, and estimating, but I did it.  Discovered that the dimensions contain the proportions of phi and a Fibonacci number sequence, which would explain why I instinctively admired the shape when I first saw it.

ETA: I have posted directions on how to make the tool here.

December 26, 2010

A Little BFL Gift for Myself

Shropshire, top, BFL, bottom

I got a little gift for myself, a sample of Blue Face Leicester roving.

This BFL is different from the usual.  It is in the form of roving, not top, and it is traceable to a single flock located one state over from me.  This means it didn't come from a homogenized blend of anonymous wool from overseas.  Roving means that all the wool is there, not just the longest strands, and that the strands are randomized rather than aligned.  This gives a different structure when spun, a more lofty fuzzy yarn.

singles spun from BFL wool roving

singles spun from BFL wool top
The roving is sold directly from the farm.  Direct sales are supposed to let producers get more profit from their products than they would selling to wholesalers.  I found the farm using the Local Harvest directory and I ordered through that website, which was convenient.  Direct sales are also supposed to let buyers get items that are low in "food miles."  The farm probably sent their wool out to be processed by a custom mill, so there's no telling how much distance the wool has travelled but I would guess no farther than the midwest.

The shepherds market their wool as coming from sheep that live natural lives.  Along with wool, the farm sells meat and sheepskins, so if you take "natural lives" to mean sheep gamboling in the fields until they are full of years and gathered to their ancestors, then no, I don't think that is what it means.  The farm's page says the sheep live on pasture and are not given growth hormones.

December 25, 2010

Peace on Earth

May you have peace in your little bit of the Earth, and happy handspinning.

Never mind reindeer!  With the crazy weather we've had this December, watch out for sheep blown up onto the rooftops, as in this Giddy Limit comic strip,

December 24, 2010

Is the Use of Electrical Power Really Cheating

I happened to use my drop spindle out in public and a woman was very taken with its action, exclaiming how she'd never seen anything like it.  She, and the man with her, asked questions about how it worked and how spinning wheels work.

I talked about the action of flyers and bobbins and treadles.  I held my drop spindle sideways to show how twisting fibre falls off the tip of a great wheel's spindle.

I said there were also electric spinners that look like sewing machines.

"Oh, but that's cheating!" the man said.

Lenox "Le Printemps Spring"

December 23, 2010

ninety-first skein

The ninety-first skein I spun is made out of two strands of Louet merino wool top in fuschia and one strand of Ashland Bay merino wool top in ruby each spun to about 16 wpi for a bulky yarn.

I am knitting it with a yarn made of the thirty-fifth skein, seventieth skein, and seventy-third skein.  These skeins were all fingering weight two-ply yarn that I didn't really know what to do with because the gauge was so thin.  I gave each yarn more twist and plied them together.  The result is not quite as bulky as the ninety-first skein, but when knit in alternate rows the difference is not too noticeable.  I like how the bit of ruby in the fuschia and ruby yarn blends with the all-ruby yarn and makes the fabric looked flecked with fuschia.

December 22, 2010

GalGael's Rugs

The Scottish group Woolcraft at GalGael has a YouTube video, "Cutting Down the 3 Rugs" which features a handspun, handwoven rug at the two minute mark.

I like the videos of theirs that I've seen.  They look like they have great camaraderie and they use interesting fibre arts equipment.

December 21, 2010

third scarf

I knit another scarf.  It is a lot like the second, only longer and brown, not purple.

I spun the eighty-ninth and ninetieth skeins, what I called leftover stew, for this pattern, One Row Handspun scarf.  I think this pattern does best with yarn full of different colours.  I've seen examples of the same pattern in solid colours and the effect of multiple colours strikes me as much more interesting and suitable.  I spun the leftover stew of BFL roving with a drop spindle and put the singles on bobbins, then plied them together.

The last time I made this pattern with four ounces of yarn, I was left wanting a longer scarf, so this time with five ounces of leftovers I was looking to make the most of them.  I originally spun some ecru BFL into the leftover stew but that created a lot of contrast and I took exception to it.  I backtracked and spun without it.

One of the bobbins ran out of spun yarn early, leaving me with extra on the other bobbins.  I spun some ecru BFL, put that on bobbins and plied a barber pole yarn.  This supplied me with half an ounce of light-coloured stuff that coordinated with the leftover stew yarn.

Then I took the ounce of sunflower BFL I had leftover from the tam of the orange cat and knit that yarn with the barber pole yarn, alternating rows.  This made up the tips of the scarf, allowing me to eke out the leftover stew yarn and create a long scarf.

There were a lot of ends to sew in.

December 20, 2010

Drop Spindle Lathe

Robin Wood, wood turner, discusses traditional Eurasian foot-powered drop spindle lathes on his blog in the 25 Sept 2010 post, "Old Lathes" and shows what he thinks might be a photograph of a spindle lathe in Italy.

December 18, 2010

Stash Reduction Progress

As you know, I just spun a leftover stew of BFL from the remains of a couple of braids used in other projects.  Between that and the wool I used for the doll hats, I have emptied enough of my Gamma seal bucket, the one that's dedicated to dyed BFL, to the point where I could consolidate its contents with another's.  The last pound of dyed wool is now in my bucket of undyed BFL top, which had headroom.  Just in time too, since I bought a large amount of emmer grain that needs to go in a bucket to keep out the other sort of moth.

I have destashed the remainder of the hot pink merino wool top and given it to someone I hope will try spinning, a move I feel quite good about.

I am going to give away fibre in my guild's holiday gift exchange.  It's fibre I got purposely to give as a gift, but it's in the same spot as my stash and therefore counts for reduction points in my book.

Since I decided to reduce my stash, I have only bought the BFL in sunflower that became the orange tam and the BFL in lapis.  (I've spun the sunflower and half the lapis.)  This represents quite the leveling off in my rate of stash acquisition, so I think I'm doing quite well there.  Not sure at what point I'll let myself play quartermaster again and start to buy.

I did promise you that I was going to go in November to a shearing day to see about a local BFL or BFL cross fleece.  I had to be somewhere else that day and couldn't go; however, this month the same shepherd had her fleeces for sale at a historic home's holiday open house.  Sadly for me, while she has fifty fleeces for sale, her sole purebred Blue Face Leicester sheep was new to her and, having been shorn once already this year, did not grow enough of a staple in time for shearing.

December 17, 2010

eighty-ninth and ninetieth skeins

Here are the eighty-ninth and ninetieth skeins I've spun.  The fibre comes from leftover sections of Frabjous Fibers BFL in redwood forest and stained glass.  The singles were spun to about 32 wpi, to give a worsted weight yarn.  The skeins were 2 1/4 ounces with 114 yards and 2 3/8 ounces with 122 yards.

December 16, 2010

Trying Something New

You might think, going by what I've knit in the past, that this is another hat in the making.

You would be wrong.  At least that's the plan.  Instead of making hats to give away to other people, I am doing something about one of my two goals for once: making something handspun for me to wear.

I had this much knit in garter stitch.  I told myself how wonderfully stretchy garter stitch is, and how suitable the stitch was for the item.  Then I faced how much I dislike the look of garter stitch and I ripped it all out.

Good to deal with these things early.  Good to make only what you like in the first place.  But still good to make stuff, even stuff that's not optimal.

December 15, 2010

Leftover Stew Handspun Ready for Plying

Here's the leftover stew of BFL singles, transferred from the drop spindle to bobbins, ready for plying together.

December 13, 2010

Sitting with the Bar-Raisers

Picture yourself sitting at a holiday potluck where everyone but you has a placemat of their own handweaving.

It's important to spend time with people who raise the bar.

December 11, 2010

Early on a Saturday Morning

This is how my table looked last Saturday.  The makings of leftover stew, that's what this is.

December 10, 2010

Pass the Napkin So I Can Draw

It's really funny when you've known someone over a decade, and suddenly find out she knits.  Then you're pantomiming for her how knitting in the round works, and begging for scrap paper to draw diagrams of how to graft two rows of live stitches, and writing down words like "Ravelry," and "provisional cast-on," and "kitchener."  Kitchener the stitch, not the city.

December 09, 2010

Old Believers Film

At the 8:26 mark of the film, Old Believers by Margaret Hixon, on the Folkstreams website, a woman weaves a belt using cards or tablets.  The documentary was filmed in the early 1980s, at the same time as the research for Burnham's Unlike the Lilies was done.  The weaver is from a different people group, but there are similarities.

She talks, through a translator, for two minutes as she works.  She talks about the belts' function in weddings as part of customary gift exchanges, and the belts' religious importance.  She names different belt weaving techniques.  She describes how she learned to weave from her mother, and discusses her difficulty in getting her grandchildren to learn from her.  She talks about the correlation between self-sufficiency and economic necessity:
There are many Russian people here [Oregon], and nobody knows how to weave belts.  In general they work in factories and it's hard.  The young now cannot weave.  It's only the old.  And furthermore, the young aren't interested.  They can work one day and earn enough money to buy two belts.  In China everyone wove belts for himself.  When we went to Brasil, people started to get, well, a little better off.  And when there's money, it's better to buy than to make it yourself, right?  And then we came to America.  People really started getting rich.  In America everybody buys their belts.
It's fascinating to watch her turn the cards.  She beats the weft in place with the blunt side of a large kitchen knife.  The weaver uses a wooden tool to attach the belt she is weaving to the sash or belt she is wearing.  I am trying to figure out how it works.

There is also a short clip of card weaving at the 3:10 mark in the film.

December 08, 2010

Lessons from the Doukhobor

You can read Burnham's Unlike the Lilies, which I wrote about yesterday, just for interest's sake.  But there are people out there trying to establish programs and courses of action for ecovillages, social enterprise, Transition Towns, cooperatives, intentional communities, and individual efforts to create low carbon or zero carbon or carbon-neutral, low-pollution, fair-trade, resilient, locavore clothes.  So what potentially useful things could the book tell us about the Doukhobor and their grassroots textile production?

One, their attitudes and their operational setups boosted their textile accomplishments.  Yes, they practiced regular, skilled use of appropriate technologies like handlooms and spinning wheels.  But it wasn't just what they did, it's how they were.  As a people, they were dedicated to an extraordinary degree to what they were doing.  They practiced a high degree of cooperation amongst themselves.  While their people had overall a good level of know-how regarding production of fibre tools, clothes, and rugs, they had particularly skilled workers who could barter their products and services.  Burnham writes, "the exchange of skills was a way of life."  Communal living fostered transmission and teaching of textile production because people lived in close quarters, modeling the skills and working together.  Burnham puts the textile proficiency rate, as it were, at 100 percent for women among the Doukhobor in the early twentieth century and notes that a girl would have many textile mentors.  Communal schedules of chores gave women uninterrupted time to work on textiles.  Both the men and women were skilled, ingenious, resourceful, and productive.  The specific fiber tools and techniques of the Doukhobor are worth a look.

Two, while they were very much a closed society bent on self-sufficiency, they used some inputs that originated elsewhere.  The men worked for wages off the farm.  Doukhobor women in Saskatchewan sheared sheep for area farmers and brought back wool.  The Doukhobor in British Columbia got wool from the prairies.  They gleaned canvas from a mill and turned them into pants, used flour sacks for linings, and made shoe soles out of rubber belting from farm equipment.  They cut knitting needles out of umbrella spokes and rigged some spinning wheels out of metal pipe and sewing machine wheels.  They bought commercial dyes and cotton yarn.  The Doukhobor received donations of money and supplies (including spinning wheels) from a number of sources, including author Leo Tolstoy, the Quakers, and the Canadian Council of Women.  Land was initially obtained through the Homesteading program run by the Canadian government.  As an organization, the Doukhobor took out loans from commercial banks.

Three, the book states that the loans with which the Doukhobor leveraged themselves left them vulnerable to the shocks of the Great Depression, and eventually resulted in them losing title to their land.

ETA: you may also be interested in another post that shows cloth and tools used by the Doukhobor in British Columbia, from a museum I visited.

December 07, 2010

Doukhobor Fiber Tools

In my misspent youth, during my free time at university, I holed up in a carrel with a panoramic view of Georgia Strait and the snow-topped Coast mountains, a carrel within arm's reach of all the library's back issues of Harrowsmith magazine, and there I sat and read every single one.

There was an article about a certain plant, one that I will not name so that this post won't get picked up on search engines for the wrong reasons.  Canada had banned cultivation of this plant decades before.  If I'm not mistaken, you can grow the fiber-producing variety of this plant now in Canada if you have a permit and are prepared for scrutiny from the Mounties (though it's still banned in the U.S.) but at the time the article was published, you couldn't.  The writer investigated the uses of the plant for fiber as well as the impacts and implications of the ban.  One interview was with a Doukhobor woman who had kept for years a very durable set of men's clothing.  If I remember correctly, it was a suit.  Her family or her community had made the clothes from scratch out of the plant material back in the days when cultivation was legal and commonplace.

I was terribly impressed to know that any people group in the twentieth century had once had the skills to make clothes starting with raw materials.  Not only that, but nice clothes.  The article made me see the Doukhobors in a different light than what our high school Social Studies books had presented.

I recently got the book Unlike the Lilies: Doukhobor Textile Traditions in Canada by Dorothy K. Burnham.

I like to see what fiber tools and materials have been used throughout history, especially in folk culture, to meet people's need for clothes, bedding, and so on.  Lets me delude myself into imagining I could make the tools and raise the fiber too.

The book shows a Tartar wool comb, which was new to me.  Normally when I use a set of wool combs I like to clamp one down so I don't have to brace one against the pull of the other.  A tartar wool comb stays stationary without a clamp.  Two rows of tines are set in a block of wood attached to the top of a triangle of wood, the peak of which is made from two boards, and the base of which is a long board that sticks out to one side or to either side depending on the model.  You sit on the board and let gravity hold the comb in place.  Only one comb was used and the wool was pulled through the tines by hand.

I was interested to see retted flax stalks being broken with a pestle in a large mortar made of a log.  They had regular flax brakes too, but no scutching boards: they would whip the stems up and down across a sawhorse instead.  The flax combs were made of thin wooden boards, very different from the metal hackles I usually see in vintage or reproduction flax tools, and these combs had only one row of teeth.  When harvesting the flax, a hammer was used to remove seed heads by beating them; the flax was not pulled through a more usual ripple, which looks like a rake and does the same job as the hammer except by pulling the seed heads off.

Burnham confirms some facts about flax processing I've read before, such as getting the finest flax by sowing thickly, harvesting before the seeds ripen, and using the dew retting method instead of the water method.

ETA: see also another post with photos from a museum visit

December 06, 2010

Nineteenth Hat

I knit much of the eighty-seventh and eighty-eighth skeins into this tam-o-shanter.  The pattern is A Classic Mohair Tam, in the book Homespun Handknit.

After sewing in the ends, I soaked the hat and put a dinner plate inside to block it.  That's how it looked, below.  I'd never made a tam before, and while the wool dried I was in suspense.  The result was a total change, from amorphous blob to tam.

December 04, 2010

Button Salvage

I removed some buttons from an ugly, unworthy thrift shop dress I bought on a fifty-percent-off day.  One of the buttons is facedown; you can see they are made of shell.  I do like things with a nice luster to them.  I also like a spot of salvage work.

December 03, 2010

eighty-seventh, eighty-eighth skeins

These two skeins, my eighty-seventh and eighty-eighth, are yet more Blue Face Leicester wool.  This time the wool is from Kimber Baldwin Designs (FiberOptic on Etsy), dyed in the colour sunflower.  Four ounces total, 160 yards total, worsted weight yarn, singles spun to about 32 wpi.  Plied into unevenly-sized skeins because my digital scale gave me inaccurate readings again.

The colour makes me laugh because it looks so much like the colour of an orange cat.  I like cats very much; the only time I like the colour orange is when it is on a cat.  Picked this wool to make a gift for a family member who favours autumn colours (and cats).

December 02, 2010

Spinning Yarn, Perched on a Stool

Know why, historically, people ditched handspindles and great wheels and went for flyer-driven spinning wheels?  They got tired of standing for hours at a time, for one.

You'll have to pry my handspindles out of my hands, I like using them so much.  That's why I bought a 25.5 inch tall stool, so I could sit down but still spin long lengths of yarn with a drop spindle.  More comfortable than perching on the corner edge of the dining table.  Not as good for me in the long run as standing, since I slump, but still good to have.

The stool is oak, and secondhand from an antiques shop.  I am happy with the price I paid for it, and I'm happy the shop owner thinks the piece is almost certainly domestically manufactured.  I've found that I've had to search for used furniture to get pieces that are locally-sourced, attractive, and well-priced, made with solid materials.

December 01, 2010

eighty-sixth skein

Here is the eighty-sixth skein I've spun.  It is an ounce of ecru Blue Face Leicester.  I spun it while I was at the conferences, either waiting for things to start or waiting for things to finish at the ends of very long days.

The yarn shows that I wasn't able to control the gauge as well as I usually do.  Not only did I unintentionally spin thick and thin, but I didn't spin nearly as thin overall as I meant to.  I knew it, and could have put it down and tried again another time, but decided that bad spinning was better than no spinning.