Thursday, February 24, 2011

Just a few photos for today

Picking and carding another batch of wool: 

A basket full of fiber and the terrifying wool picker.
Why terrifying? 

That's why. 

Here's how it works: you feed the fiber in one side (the left in this case) and,
wearing thick leather gloves of course, swing the moveable cradle back and forth. 
The movement combs the fiber and eventually send it flying out the right side of the picker. 

The drum carder in action. 

Rolled up fiber ready to spin. These jelly rolls are also known as rolags.

Sewing up a skirt: 
A wrap-skirt made with fabric from a little shop in Portland, OR. 

Bunny trim on the pocket. Couldn't resist. 


A reverse-Swedish wallet made with bits of felt and two handmade bowls: 

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Two more skeins and the loveliest knit-frock yet

I finished spinning two more skeins of yarn! I haven't weighed them yet, but they seem to be about as skinny as my first skein was. So probably another 3-3.5 ounces per skein. Wow! It's adding up. Sort of. I spun these two skeins on the two different wheels ––the one spun on the big production wheel is definitely a bit over-spun. I'm still getting the hang of drafting the wool out fast enough to keep up with the speed of the wheel pulling it in. 
I was looking through back issues of Interweave Knits' magazine, and found this ad for the English yarn company Rowan. I've always loved Rowan, it's the most beautiful (and most expensive) stuff, and their patterns are so dreamy and idiosyncratic. And a bit odd at times (and yes, therefore ever so British). But this sweater dress trumps all. It's gorgeous. I wish I could just conjure it up right now. It's knit in Kidsilk Haze, which, even for Rowan yarn, is a little on the steep side, at about £9/teensy-tiny skein. You'd need dozens of balls of yarn to make this. Maybe Rowan will hire me to become a test knitter for them. In exchange for free yarn! I've also looked all over for the pattern. Alas, Rowan Knit magazine #42 is nowhere to be found. Sigh. Well, for now, I'll just keep it posted on my bulletin board. Maybe I can manifest this somehow!? 

Crafty things and notes and skeins and my perfect sweater
and a big old candy-coloured angora hat. 

There it is. Ahhhhh... 

Two more! Two more!!

The National Young Farmers Coalition's answer to farming on a shoestring. Check out the chicken waterer that only opens when a chicken stands on it. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

More scouring and some of my favourite books

A sunny Sunday morning ––perfect wool-washing weather. I cleaned a few more ounces of wool in the sink this morning. The last batch turned out well, but it wasn't quite as clean as I'd hoped for. So this time, I let the wool soak longer and with a bit more soap and Borax. Quantities? Um. Approximately two-three squirts of ordinary dish-soap and a dash of Borax for a sink full of hot-to-the-touch water. Let the wool soak, swishing it gently to and fro, for as long as you can stand it. You should be patient for at least 10-15 minutes. I use two rinses for my wool, but if you fiber is super dirty, you might need longer soaks and more rinses. The rinses are just clear hot water in a little tub (see photos) and a little bit of gentle swishing. Right now, the wool is drying on a sheet on the floor. 

A small scouring set-up in the kitchen.
A few tubs and a sink will do.
The first soak ––now you see the dirt...
...and now you don't! The second soak (rinse). 
Clean wool drying on a sheet. 
I'd totally forgotten about "willowing wool" until I picked up Alden Amos' Big Book of Handspinning again this morning. Basically, you spread the wool out on a screen on the floor (or better yet, outside), and flogging away at it with a couple of flexible twigs (hence the willow). This way, you can beat out a lot of the little bits of dirt and junk that won't wash out of the fleece. As Alden points out, you can also use it as a way to vent pent-up frustrations. I found this very bizarre parliamentary report from England, published in 1918, when I was looking for information about willowing wool. Not very helpful, but interesting nonetheless. Odd stuff, this.


G. Ackroyd (E): Witness willows some of the materials sent to him for combing. A dusty atmosphere is generally an indication that the material has not been properly cleansed. Willowing may be necessary for cleansing certain materials but it is not wise to willow alt materials and witness would prefer a steeping process to willowing. Wool can be cleansed of much dust by steeping and efficient washing and if so cleansed willowing is a disadvantage because it tends to damage all materials. Willowed wool can be washed more cheaply than unwillowed. In some cases the advantages may outweigh the disadvantages but witness considers willowing a mistake from the manufacturing point of view and also to be a dangerous process from the health point of view. 

I might willow this batch of wool today when it dries, just to see what it does for it. It reminds me of threshing grain, which we had great fun with this summer.... 

Here are some of my favourite wooly-crafty books. 

Oh, and one more thing. If you like Moleskin notebooks (I do), check this out: you can make pages to print and paste specifically into your notebooks. Kinda neat. Or else, you can do it the old fashioned way, with a piece of paper, some scissors, pens or paints, glue, bits of collage material...

Gone skiing. 

Happy Sunday! 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A knitted bit and some mid-winter beekeeping

I worried that our honeybees were getting hungry, so I cooked them up a batch of fondant (basically bee candy), with some chamomile tea in it, and waited for a warm day to pop open the hives and give them their snack. Today was such a day, and the bees were out full-force for the first time this winter. They were happily pooping all over the white snow!

If you look closely, you might be able to see all the little yellow
specks of bee poop on the snow in the foreground.

And that's me in my bee suit and pink boots!

I also finished the first of my Kiel socks, with a pattern from Stephanie van der Linde's beautiful book, Around the World in Knitted Socks. The heel flap was a bit of a headache, but in the end it turned out nicely, with no need to pick up stitches along the sides of the heel, the way most socks are knitted. Speaking of all things German, here's a curiosity for you, a painting by Master Bertram of München, painted around 1390. It's the Madonna, knitting a sweater. 

In the meantime, I also knitted up a 2-minute swatch of my first batch of handspun. It's more spun that I'd like it, not as soft as I was hoping, but it does knit up well after all. I also started spinning on a bigger "production" wheel. I don't know how many RPMs that bobbin spins at, but let me tell you, it's a tad bit frightening. I might just sacrifice speed for comfort and familiarity, and stick with my own little Ashford. Take a look at the two wheels below. 

Two spinning wheels...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Do feminists knit?

I'm starting to ponder my senior research project. So far, I'm planning to interview women. Women at home. Women who choose not to work in offices or for other people. Women who are self-employed, women who are full-time mothers, homemakers, farmers, artists, writers, hermits, homeschool teachers, scholars, crafters. The more I try to create an outline of who these women are, a framework to work within (because the big picture is, well, big), the more people throw the word "feminist" at me. "Oh, you mean feminists!"
What do I mean exactly? What is a feminist exactly? Does a feminist knit?

The Oxford American Dictionary, in short, says it like this: 
Feminism |ˈfeməˌnizəm|
NounThe advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
My feminist knits. That is to say, my feminist chooses to knit. That's the crux, I'm sure. 

 A few potted things for you. The little grey things are mice
scampering in between the pots. Clay mice! 

Ball o' yarn. First one yet!
Our mountains through a very frosty window. 

I can't define the word myself, and perhaps I'd better stay away from it ––it has such a long and deephistory. And yet, perhaps it would be a thrill to throw it out into the breeze and see where it lands.

The Sock Knitter, Grace Cossington Smith, 1915

Have a happy Wednesday! 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mad as a hatter and spinning away

This weekend was the annual NOFA Winter Conference weekend. What fun! Hordes of farmers, gardeners, teachers, homesteaders, and everyone in between, convening to talk about farming and food. I got to meet my beekeeping hero, Ross Conrad, who gave me some sound beekeeping advice, as well as take a sausage-making class with three chefs, talk to spinners, dyers, and knitters, and catch up with friends and acquaintances. NOFA is such a wonderful, hard-working organisation.

3.5 ounces of yarn (!) on a handwoven rainbow plaid of my own design. 

Here are a few pictures of what I've been up to. The skein of yarn is the first one, hot off the spinning wheel, weighing in at all of 3.5 ounces! That means I'll need at least 5-6 more skeins that size, if not more.

Here's what I did in my spare time: a knitted mouse.
What do you do when you're bored?  
Heel turned. 

This little fact popped up in conversation today: do you know why the mad hatter was mad? Hatters used to use mercury to process their furs, exposure to which can damaged the nervous system, causing tremors, as well as apparently triggering strange anti-social behaviour, unexplainable outbursts, and the like. Here's an early reference to the madness of hatters via a fictional conversation from a British journal:

NORTH: Many years - I was Sultan of Bello for a long period, until dethroned by an act of the grossest injustice ; but I intend to expose the traitorous conspirators to the indignation of an outraged world.
TICKLER (aside to SHEPHERD.): He's raving.
SHEPHERD (to TICKLER.): Dementit.
ODOHERTY (to both.): Mad as a hatter. Hand me a sega.
(from Blackwood's Edinburgh Ambrocianæ, 1829) 

Keep on crafting! Just stay away from the mercury... 

Happy VDay!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hats and more...

My friend Erin and I decided to go crazy and model some of the handmade hats I have stashed in my dresser. The point is that I love all of them, but don't get to wear them all on a regular basis. So now they get to have their own 5 minutes of fame!
My take on a Russian hat ––this one is knitted with Icelandic wool,
fittingly for Erin, and lined with purple silk. Yum! 

A slouchy little Scandinavian thing. 

My mum knitted this one up in about half a day flat at Christmas.
It's one of the warmest hats in my collection, and
I love the swirls she invented along the sides. 

No, this one isn't handmade. It's my pink (um, raspberry?) beret from Paris.
One of my favourite hats, hands down. 
First hand-spun yarns from two years ago, all dyed with plants, too! 
Beret-like cabled thing knitted with Malabrigo yarn from Uruguay. 
I've been busy making pots for the last two weeks, throwing things on the wheel mostly, but also hand-building some. The first glaze firing came out of the kiln today, and there are some lovely little bowls and cups and BUTTONS! I handmade some buttons to go on my sweater, and was thrilled with the result ––should have made more while I was at it. 

Handmade clay buttons with a dab of blue or green glaze
in a hand-thrown nutmeg-coloured bowl. 

An experimental yarn bowl. Pop in the yarn while you're plying or knitting
 (with lace-weight for example)and keep it from dancing all over the floor.
This one is glazed in rutile (titanium dioxide) glaze with a touch of green.

Now that I'm officially a blogger, friends keep telling me about other neat blogs to check out. Wow. The blogosphere is huge, and seems to cover just about every topic you could imagine. A few highlights for you here, to explore between times. Of course, for starters, by dear friend Sarah, whose talent is out of this world. Check out her art and thoughts on "nature, culture, and the places where they run into each other" here. Then there's this nutty man named Gary, who I've never met, who's a potter in New York. My pottery teacher told me about him and his blogging adventures. Read the stories about couples, they're sweet, and check out his bowls and teapots while you're there.  My friend Erin, who is a secret Icelander transplanted to Georgia (though she's heading back to Iceland soon), writes and photographs here.

As for the sweater update, I spun almost a whole bobbin of yarn yesterday afternoon. It's such a satisfying feeling to watch the bobbin fill up with ridges of white yarn. Spinnerooooo!

Here's the first bobbin of yarn! Almost full... 

And here's what's left to wash, pick, card, potentially dye, spin, and knit up.
It's really not SUCH a big bag, is it? 

Thanks for reading! I hope the sun is shining where you are, too!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

More on knitting sticks...

I must not forget to mention that tied around her waist was a wooden fish, in the open mouth of which the end of one of her busy knitting needles rested. ––Paynter, A History of St. Ives 
Over the centuries people have come up with all kinds of strange knitting aids, knitting sticks being one of them. Some of these things have lasted, others, for one reason or another, have not. Knitting sticks were for the most industrious knitters, who'd slip their tool into a belt and roam the moors, needles always busy. The stick, which was sometimes shaped like a fish, and thus referred to as a knitting fish in St. Ives, held the working double pointed needle, freeing one hand and so making it easier to loop yarn across it. Most of the sticks were made of hardwood, though a sock tightly stuffed with straw could also do the trick. The sticks were mostly used in Britain, since they were most helpful for "English style" knitting. I knit "German," hooking the yarn with the needle, rather than looping the yarn across it with the fingers. In any case, according to Mary Wright, in Cornish Guernseys & Knit-frocks, a skilled stick user could knit up 200 stitches a minute. Maybe I ought to get me one of those just in case? 
This one isn't going anywhere soon. Maybe you should try...

...skiing instead? 
Or put on some boots and go by foot? 

Or maybe you should just stay home and knit something warm?
(Like this pair of woollen herringbone socks.)  

Spinning tales...

Like so many others before me, I've finally given in to that very modern urge: to blog. Bear with me, I'm still learning the ropes! I've decided to embark on a semester-long voyage through the annals of fiber, starting with a raw fleece and ending with a knitted sweater. My fleece is a gorgeous, snowy white Coopworth-Romney-Corridale, from a flock of sheep that live and breathe ocean air on Nash Island, off the coast of Maine. I bought the fleece this summer at the Common Ground Fair, in Unity, Maine, with some money hard-earned working as a garden intern for my college. It was a great way to spend it ––this fleece is going places. My spinning wheel, for those who want the details, is an Ashford Traditional, bought second-hand two years ago from an inn-keeper near school, who sold it to me for some cash and a few hours of mucking out her sheep barn. It's a lovely little wheel, but I may succumb to using a friend's bigger and badder production wheel, just to keep this project rolling ––errr, spinning. I'll keep you posted. 

So far, I've washed a few ounces of the fleece. A test run to see what our very hard well water does to the fiber (a teaspoon of Borax seems to soften the water just enough), and to check for spinnability. So far so good. There's still quite a bit of lanolin left in the fiber, so a longer soak might be better for next time. Other than that, it spins up beautifully. I'm aiming to spin several pounds of yarn (2-3 lbs. probably) into singles (meaning only one strand, not plied like most yarns that you can buy), and dye some of it with dye plants saved from my college's dye garden. My friend crafty friend Hannah is bugging me to get dyeing soon, so you might see the results of a dye-day in an upcoming post. In the meantime, I'm working on a pair of German herringbone socks (from Kiel!). 

There's something about winter that makes me want to hunker down and knit. Maybe it's the natural rhythm of agriculture taking hold. I've got crafters of bygone days on my mind, too. Of course winter is a busy time, especially if you're milking cows, but there's also an opportunity to eek out moments to knit and spin and dye for the coming year (moments that are hard to come by once the sap starts flowing and the cows start calving and the hay starts calling out to be hayed and the carrots need weeding and, and, and). The fire is going anyway, so why not boil up a pot of water and scour some fleeces? And you can toast your toes while you're at it... 

Happy crafting! 

PS- I just discovered the Victoria and Albert Museum's excellent collection of all things knitted: museum collections, patterns, stories, links. Check it out here

PPS- Since we're talking about the Brits already, there's such a rich tradition of knitting to be explored in those parts. Here's just a little example: a knitting stick, made to hold double-point needles, carved for a woman as a token of affection. One of my favourite bloggers, Kate Davies, writes about these here