Monday, December 20, 2010

Two Spins and A Knit

Two spins and a knit - what does that mean?  Well, those are the three fiber projects that I've completed in December so far.  

For the past few weeks I've been concentrating on finishing up a few works-in-progress before the end of the year.  The yarn below is a 2 ply blend of merino wool and tencel.  It had  been in my spinning project basket for over a year.  Mostly I carried the fiber and a spindle around with me and spun it on the go.  It's been lovely to spin but I decided "Enough is enough."  It was time to wrap up this project.  So it's plied, tied, and washed.  Very soft with some sheen from the tencel.  I think I'll probably weave with it.

Next came 8 oz. of lustrous tussah silk.  Tussah silk is derived from wild silkworms and is usually a soft honey or tan color.  (White silk comes from the bombyx silkworms who are raised in captivity.)  Again this was a delightful fiber to spin but I only worked on it now and then.  Happy to say, it also is all spun up!  Two skeins of soft, luxurious goodness.  I can see it as warp for an elegant woven scarf, using a bombyx silk yarn as weft.

Finally, one knitting project came off the needles over the weekend.  These mittens are worked in Knit Picks Telemark yarn on US 3 double point needles.  I've had the yarn for several years and wanted to move it out of the stash bin.  The color and feel said "Aran" to me, so I selected a few cable patterns from The Harmony Guide to Aran and Fair Isle Knitting, and tried my hand at designing a mitten.  It was definitely a learning experience.   With several balls of Telemark still in my stash and a few ideas for fine-tuning my pattern, I know there is another pair in my future.  These mittens will be donated to Access Arts for fundraising.

So there are my two spins and a knit, all finished up before December 31st.  I have one other spinning project in progress that I'd like to complete before then - one pound of some creamy Blue Faced Leicester combed top.  It spins so effortlessly - a fine soft single. I'm over halfway through it.  In fact, I think it's time for me to head on over to the wheel and get busy.

Anyone else trying to finish a few things before 2011 rolls in?  Have fun with your fiber projects and enjoy the holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Frost Flowers

Winter has arrived all at once - blustery gusting wind, swirling billows of snow, and icy temperatures that made me run right back inside for a thicker coat and woolly gloves.  It could have been oh-so easy to complain and moan about the miserable weather.  But look at the gift winter has left on the window of our front door!  Peering at the world through those frost flowers changed my view of the day and of the season.  What other surprises are in store?  Will I have my eyes and heart open to see and receive them?

Here are several haiku by the poet Basho to celebrate winter's arrival as we approach the longest nights of the year.  

Awakened at midnight
by the sound of the water jar
cracking from the ice.

Borrowing sleep
from the scarecrow's sleeves
midnight frost.

Hello!  Light the fire!
I'll bring inside
a lovely bright ball of snow.

Winter solitude -
in a world of one color 
the sound of wind.

Winter has the upper hand now, so brew yourself a cup of tea.  Get snug under an afghan and enjoy a good book or a bit of knitting.  Make the most of the season! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Endings and Beginnings

Getting back into my car yesterday at the library, I noticed the trees at the edge of the parking lot.  I had to jump out again with my camera to get a few shots.  Aren't these leaves wonderful?  I love how the bright green along the veins feathers into the yellow - very artful, could be the inspiration for a textile project, perhaps some kitchen towels or a pair of mittens.  I don't know what kind of trees they are but they are definitely one of the few that still are displaying colorful leaves before their winter's rest.

These chubby boys are two of the garlic bulbs that we broke apart and planted on Saturday.  The variety is Bogatyr.  I've never grown it before but it gets great reviews for both flavor and long storage from many of the gardening folks.

We also planted German Extra Hardy and Pink Music, both saved from our own 2010 crop.  Garlic needs to be planted in the autumn.  So while most of the garden real estate is quiet, the cloves of garlic are tucked in the ground, given a light feeding, and covered with mulch to keep them cozy.  Hopefully the cloves will settle in and begin to send out their roots even in the cold months ahead while I'm inside weaving, spinning and browsing seed catalogues.

So that's how it goes.  Some things are shutting down, finishing up, getting ready to rest for a few months, while others are just beginning, taking those first few steps toward a new season of life.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's a Woman's Prerogative to Change Her Mind

I had intended to take a break from blogging for a while to concentrate on some things I'd really like to finish up.  Well, you know how the unexpected has a way of popping up.  Early the other morning I was hanging laundry in the backyard before the sun was up over the trees.  When I bent over to pick up the basket, I noticed how the patch of clover under the clothesline was dusted with frost.  Not enough frost to wither the tender leaves but just enough to give a magical effect.  See how the edges of the leaves are outlined with white?  It made me catch my breath for a moment, that completely random artistry of nature.

The Frost Is All Over

As long as I had my camera, I headed down to the pond.  Not much frost effect there but I did see that the clouds were perfectly reflected in the still water.

Pond Clouds

Now I know neither of these things are especially remarkable, but in less than a half an hour, the sun had melted that dainty frost off of the clover and the clouds had moved on to wherever they were heading.  And that is what I thought was so special - little fleeting bits of beauty that I wouldn't have witnessed if I hadn't been out hanging laundry.  Keep your eyes open.  You never know what you'll see.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I'm going to take a break from my blog for a while.  I have a few projects that I'd like to focus my attention on, so I'll leave you for now with a poem and warm wishes for the season of celebrating which is just around the corner.  Take care!

Bird Medicine

Let me lean on you, goldfinch.
Your flashing wings the crutches
To steady my halting footsteps
Along uncertain paths.

Trusty white-throated sparrow 
Welcome back from your summer sojourn.
Your lilting "Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody"
An aspirin of melody
To ease the aches
Of a bruised human heart.

Come chickadee, nuthatch,
Titmouse, cardinal -
Cool my stinging eyes
With visions of your migrations,
Your courtships and fledging offspring,
Your survival through winter's cold fist.

And you, barred owl, you
Will brew for me an evening elixir,
A honeyed nightcap of hoots, coos and chuckles,
So soothing, so seductive
My frantic brain must surrender
To the beckoning downy nest of sleep.

Only a moment now
Before the cares of a long day
Yield to night.
Just enough time
To sigh a drowsy thanks
To the creatures of feather and song,
Physicians of the wing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Here Be Weavers ... and Winners!

Early one Sunday morning late this past August, I looked out the back door and noticed a large spider web hung across the posts of the dock.  Always attracted to spider's weavings, I walked down there to get a closer look.  As I grew near to the edge of the pond, I gasped.  There were webs everywhere, all decorated with dew drops.  Webs in cattails, webs stretched across branches from one tree to another, dainty gossamers resting on the grass.  With the sun just coming over the tops of the trees, it was an amazing sight - sparkling strings of beads in every direction.

I ran back to the house for my camera and took advantage of the prime conditions to get some nice shots of the webs.  But the spiders' work provided more than just a visual treat. All the animal stories I read to my kids when they were small - The Wind in the Willows, Uncle Wiggley stories, Mother Westwind stories - have been permanently glued in my brain and have made it very easy for me to start constructing little tales from things I observe in nature.  So why on that particular Sunday morning in August were all our backyard spiders building spectacular webs at the very same time?  A spider celebration or holiday?  A weaving competition? (Who could weave the fastest?  The most artistic?  The finest thread?)  Or was it some sort of social gathering like we human fiber benders are so fond of, a spiders' weaving fling?  See what I mean?  What do you think was going on?  In any case, it was a remarkable way to begin a Sunday.

The photo above is one of my favorites from that morning, so I thought I'd use it to announce the winners of the pink yarn and fiber contest.  I used a random number generator to draw the winners.  The Louet Gems yarn goes to LizzieK8.  Barbara S is the winner of the soy silk roving.  Congratulations!  Please send me a PM so that I can get your prizes to you.  By the way, the comments on why we pursue our fiber arts gave me some ideas to consider.  There may be a follow up post on that subject sometime in the future.

To close this post, another weaving photo.  This is what's on my loom at home right now - another project inspired by nature.  My work can't match the spiders' exquisite creations but maybe they'll let me join in the fun anyhow.  Have some fiber fun of your own this weekend!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Something to Remember, Something to Celebrate

Pink flamingos in the heart of Missouri?  No, I'm not going to tell you I spotted these exotic creatures on my latest walk through the woods.  These flamingos live in the Animal Kingdom down near Orlando, Florida.  I snapped a few shots of them while visiting with my Mom recently.  But they're so festive, so pink that I thought they would be a great way to introduce this post.

October is a special month - Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  It's a time to remember  friends and loved ones who have been affected by this disease.  It's also a time to remember the importance of monthly self-exams and yearly mammograms.  Breast cancer strikes 1 in every 8 American women.  And it's not only women with a family history of breast cancer.  Even women with healthy lifestyles and no family history are affected.  This is not simply a public service announcement.  I'm a breast cancer survivor, have friends who are survivors, have lost a friend to it.  Chances are you have a friend or loved one who has confronted the disease, or are a survivor yourself.  It's a cause close to my heart.  So remember to take care of yourself and take care of your loved ones.  End of sermon.

This coming week, October 4 through 10 is also a special week - National Spinning and Weaving Week.  It's the time for all of us yarny types to celebrate our skills.  Although it's not included in the name, I like to think of this week as a celebration of all the fiber arts - knitting, crochet, feltmaking, dyeing, the works. 

I have been weaving for over 30 years now, fewer or more years for some of my other fiber skills.  In truth, not a day goes by that I don't weave, spin, knit, etc., or at the very least, think about my current projects.  I've been earning my living with my fiber skills for well over 20 years now.  And I'm still not bored or tired of any of it.  It's part of my life, as much as sleeping, eating, breathing.

What is it about these fiber activities that keep me so entangled in them?  The answer is multi-layered.  I've always enjoyed doing things with my hands.  The repetitive motions of knitting are soothing and familiar, especially after a busy or stressful day.  Spinning lovely fiber is meditation.  Throwing a shuttle to and fro, watching the cloth develop, listening to the clatter and thump of the loom - the physicality of these activities just does something good and postive inside - like a vitamin. Thinking about and then trying out color combinations or new designs is a satisfying creative exercise.

There's something else too.  Through all these years of fiber love, I've met the most inspiring, creative, wacky, sharing people.  Many of them have become my extended fiber family.  We share our successful projects and commiserate over and learn from failures.  Knowing all of these amazing people has been an unexpected, priceless gift.  I have a rainbow of memories that stretches across my life and into the future.  All thanks to messing about with yarn!

So to remember and celebrate these two events, I've decided to have a little fun and offer a fibery giveaway, actually 2 giveaways.   Here are the goodies.

First - 2 skeins (175 yds each) of Louet worsted weight Gems yarn.  Cuddly soft Merino wool in a petal pink.

Second - 2 ounces of soysilk roving which I dyed a deep pink, almost raspberry.

If you'd like to be entered in the drawing, leave a comment telling me what fiber craft (spinning, knitting, weaving, whatever) you do and why you do it.  I want to know what keeps others plying their yarn, creating their fiber rainbows, etc.  Also, let me know which prize you'd like.  You are welcome to enter both but I realize not everyone spins (yet) and so may not be interested in the soysilk.  I'll choose two winners in a random drawing on Friday, October 15 and will announce the winners over that weekend.

In the meantime, remember to do your bit to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Celebrate and share the pleasures and rewards of the fiber arts.  The flamingos and I wish you good luck, good health, and a happy October!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First Autumn Walkabout

Here in mid-Missouri Summer held on tightly until her very last day, keeping the heat and humidity cranked up.  Then an overnight thunderstorm swept all that away, and Autumn arrived exactly on schedule, pulling a few first treasures out of her trunk.  These first days of the "official" fall season have been perfect, absolutely perfect.  Clear, dry, golden mornings when I can step out on the back porch, gladly breath in the cool, crisp air, and realize that the warm cup of coffee feels welcome to my fingers.  On such a day I have no choice but to grab the camera and take in some of the sights on the first days of autumn.

The rose turtleheads have thrived in all our summer rain.  From a couple of transplants two years ago, there is now a growing colony at the pond's edge.  I love to gently squeeze one of the blooms and watch the "turtle" open his mouth.

Among the turtleheads is one wild senna plant.  It also loves wet feet but does not seem to spread.  I'm going to save the seed pods (those green beany shapes) this year and try to propagate more next spring.  Both the turtleheads and senna are native wildflowers.

There are still plenty  of butterflies around.  I found this one in the woods, sunning itself on a leaf.  It has two common names - Question Mark or Violet Tip butterfly, Latin name - Polygonia interrogationis.

While in the woods, I came upon loads of mushrooms.  All the rain and warm temperatures of the last week have brought on a huge fruiting in the fungi community.  Wildflowers and butterflies are a piece of cake to identify, compared with mushrooms.  In addition to all the bizarre and colorful varieties, I love the challenge of trying to ID a mushroom.  I haven't had time to really study the photos I took on my walk, but check out all this wonderful weirdness.

They're certainly interesting, but aren't you thankful for chlorophyll-producing lifeforms?

What would early autumn be without masses of goldenrod with all those bumblebees nosing around them?

Yeah, I couldn't resist a shot of the old truck nearly buried in vegetation.  Once a couple of years ago, I walked up to it and startled a handsome red fox out of the passenger seat.  I still enjoy pulling that image up in my memory.

One final photo of these brilliant red berries.  They are the fruit of the Autumn Olive tree. Pretty to be sure, and probably a good food source for wildlife.  But it's a non-native, very invasive tree.  The animals help spread its seeds hither and yon.  There is far too much of it in the pasture and elsewhere, and it's difficult to eradicate.  So, for me, the beauty of those sprays of berries is always tempered by what I know of the plant's true nature.

As usual it's wonderful to welcome in a new season.  Like spring, autumn has a special feeling, a kind of easy comfort after the harshness of the previous months.  Step outside and see what Autumn has brought for her stay.  You know there are still more wonders to come.

Take care.  Be well.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mood Indigo

My September weaving project - a trio of table runners.  I wove these runners on my rigid heddle loom using some dark blue rayon mill end yarns as the warp and main weft.  These yarns, which came from Yarn Barn of Lawrence, Kansas, had been in my weaving collection for a couple of years.  It felt good to use them up.  The accent stripes were synthetic novelty yarns from my knitting stash.

The warp is set at 12 ends per inch.  The width on the loom is 18.3" and the length varies from runner to runner.  Each one is different.  For the first piece I used pattern sticks to weave weft and warp floats to create a single horizontal pattern.   The accent yarn is the synthetic novelty yarn.

On the second runner I used the same pick up pattern but repeated it several times to make a wider border band.  This pattern of warp and weft floats requires the use of 2 pattern sticks, one to make weft floats and another to make warp floats.  It is a quick and easy pattern though.  One stick remains in the warp all along.  The second stick (which creates the warp floats) has to be reinserted each time it is needed, but it is easy to see which warp threads are picked up.

The third runner was the easiest of all to weave.  It is straight plain weave throughout.  For the borders I simply alternated wefts of accent yarn with wefts of the main color.

On all of the runners I hemstitched the edges while the pieces were still on the loom.  Once all were woven I cut them off the loom, trimmed the fringe, and wet-finished them.  Voila!  All are finished and ready to use.  Only thing is ... now I have an empty loom again ...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wool Report

A couple of weeks back I finished spinning the fifth bump of 15 in my brown wool challenge. I had six bobbins filled, and with only one spare bobbin for the Reeves wheel, I decided it was time for some plying.

Two days later I had 5 fat skeins of 2 ply wool, washed, weighed and measured. Those skeins yielded 716 yards and weighed 14 1/2 ounces total. It's a good start on the yarn for my sweater. With 10 bumps of roving to go, I should have yarn aplenty. Still thinking about what color to dye it though ...

After those 5 bumps, I did feel the need for some color again, so last weekend I took a little detour from the brown and spun some blue 95% Border Leicester/5% mohair roving that I picked up at the Bethel Festival. It was an easy quick spin - 4 ounces of 2 ply yarn, 180 yards, about 14 wraps per inch. It's lofty, not scratchy, somewhere between sport and DK in size.

I've named it Up in the Clouds because it reminds me of the cloud photos I took from an airplane window not long ago. I'd like to use it for a knitting project. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The New Kid in Town

Over the Labor Day weekend we drove up to the Bethel Sheep and Wool Festival. The weather was ideal - sunny and mild. It made for a pleasant day spent in watching the sheep dogs round up clusters of silly sheep, strolling through the sheep barn, and of course, checking out the vendor tents. I did come away with small amounts of two spinning rovings. But best of all, when we drove home, this little fellow was riding in the back seat.

He is a French Angora Chocolate Buck, born July 3 of this year. I've named him Truffle. He has joined Bailey and Tobin in the rabbit condo, so now I'm back to a trio of angoras once more. I usually give young angoras their first haircut somewhere between 3 and 4 months of age. By this time next month Truffle will be looking quite different for a time. For now he's settling in well. Here he is snacking on his favorite treat - a few tasty clover leaves.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Catching Up

'Zooks! September is one of my favorite months and it's already more than half over. I guess that's an indication that there's been lots going on. I think rather than writing a lengthy post heavy with photos, I'll try making several shorter posts.

So for starters, here's the felted wren hostel that I made at our last feltmakers meeting.

I used a flat resist - a circle of 1/4" thick foam with a 12" diameter. The wools were all medium to coarse, all easy felters - Karakul, Romney, Border Leicester. (Even though it's splendid wool for rugs and other items that will get hard use, I just cannot love Karakul. It's too darn hairy.) Before I went home, I gave the remains of my Karakul stash to a friend.

I removed the foam resist as soon as the wools began to feel as though they were meshing. If you leave the resist in too long, it will be very difficult to get the ridge at the edge of the resist smoothed out. I was careful not to cut too large a hole in the loosely felted wool so that the entrance to my birdhouse would only be accessible to smaller birds. As it is, it's still a pretty generous opening.

At home, after the finished piece had dried, I needlefelted the green vinework to decorate the exterior. It looked cozy but still seemed to be lacking something. I dug up some curly Border Leicester locks from my wool stash and needlefelted some around the base of the hanging loop.

It's not the nesting season for any of our local bird crowd so I'm going to store my hostel until next spring. Then I'll try to find a sheltered, inviting spot to hang it. The Carolina wrens are pros at using small, protected nooks to build their nests. Hopefully a chirpy couple will choose my wren hostel for their 2011 broods. I'll let you know!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Summer Knitting Wrap-Up

Late summer seems to be here. Orange school busses are rumbling through town, the college students have returned (and all seem to be driving at the exact same time.) Best of all, this morning it was a glorious 57 degrees outside when I got up! The sweltering heat this summer seemed to melt my creative energy away. But stepping outside and feeling that whisper of coolness on my skin was so invigorating. I feel ready to tackle some of the larger projects that looked too daunting in the pit of summer.

For now, here's a rundown of my smaller, less-taxing completed summer knitting projects.

Fungi Perfecti Socks
My original design. The yarn is Malabrigo Sock in a colorway called Primavera. One look at it when I undid the skein, and all the subtly-colored mushrooms that abound in the autumn bloomed in my head. Knitted on US0 and US1 double points.

A Quartet of Washcloths
The pattern for two of the cloths is my adaption of the Ripple Hand Towel by Kristin on Ravelry. The stitch pattern for the other two cloths is taken from one of the Barbara Walker volumes. The yarn is Elsebeth Lavold's Hempathy, a hemp/cotton/modal blend. Needles: US3.

A Hempathy Soap Sock
The pattern is one I've knitted for years and keep tinkering with. I think I've just about got it right now. The yarn is Elsebeth Lavold's Hempathy. Needles are US1 and US2 double points.

That's it for now. With a clear head, sun pouring in the windows, and a little coffee coursing through my veins, it's time to get back to fiber works. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Silk Hankies

The brown wool challenge is moving along smoothly. It's relaxing to sit and feel the wool glide through my fingers, to watch the yarn build up on the bobbins. However, over the weekend I pulled out a container of spinning fibers, looking for some angora. Instead of the angora, I came across a ziploc bag of silk hankies that I'd handpainted. Now don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly happy spinning the wool. But this little bag of silk was so colorful, so shiny, so tempting... I put the spinning fiber box away but the bag of silk hankies stayed out. What's the harm in a quick little spindle spinning project?

Silk hankies are one of the many forms of silk spinning preparations. Hankies are formed by boiling the silkworm cocoons to remove the glue-like substance (sericin) that holds them together. The cocoons are then stretched out on square frames. Layers of cocoons are built up on the frame to create a hankie.

It's fun to prepare a hankie for spinning. You start by carefully lifting a thin layer from one corner of the hankie.

Peel this layer away from the hankie.

You then use your fingers to poke a hole in the center of the separated layer.

Now slowly begin to stretch the layer into a large donut.

Stretch it out some more.

Continue to enlarge the silken loop by pulling on portions of the loop. When drawing out a section, your hands must be far enough apart for the fibers to shift and slide away from each other. If you pull on a section and nothing happens, your hands are too close together. You are holding onto both ends of the same fibers.

(Here's a tip for spinning any form of silk. Make sure your hands are as smooth as possible. The delicate strands will snag on any little rough or dry spot. I never work with silk right after washing dishes or digging in the garden. If the silk is catching on my hands too much, I will rub in a little hand lotion. A friend once told me that she sprinkled her hands with a bit of cornstarch before spinning silk. I tried this and it worked, although perhaps not as well as the hand lotion, I thought.)

By stretching out this loop, you are also reducing the number of silk strands in any one section. When to stop stretching and thinning the loop is the spinner's choice. I usually draft out my loop to about the thickness I plan to spin my yarn. It's sometimes hard to draft (or thin out) the fibers once you begin spinning because the individual silk strands are so long.

When you are satisfied with the thickness of the drafted loop, choose a spot and pull it apart so that it is now a very, very long ribbon of fiber. At this point I like to carefully wind the silk onto a wrist distaff. A wrist distaff is a sort of bracelet that holds your fiber while you are spindle spinning. The one in the photo is made from handspun wool. It's grabby but not too fuzzy so it does a good job of holding the silk without entangling the fibers. The spindle is a Golding 1/2 ounce high whorl spindle.

The actual spinning of this project is a piece of cake. Because I've already drafted the silk out as much as I wanted, all I'm doing with my spindle is adding twist.

Silk hankies have long fibers but also short broken bits too, so the spun yarn is going to have some lumps and bumps. I didn't worry about uneven areas or slubs as I spun. The spun single strand had lots of color mixing in addition to the texture. There wasn't very much of this fiber to begin with and the single ply was basically rather thin so I decided to chain-ply it, using a 2 ounce Golding spindle. After plying, I ended up with just over 12 yards of silk yarn. Not nearly enough for a project all on its own, but I think using it as an accent yarn in a weaving or knitting project will play up its unique character anyway. It's so soft and colorful that for now I'm going to hang it on my spinning wheel as I work my way through all that brown wool.