Sunday, 29 April 2012

Epic Book

I had a bit of birthday money, so I took a trip down to the bookstore, and came home with this.

I've been eyeing it for a few months, and this was the perfect excuse to get it. And I am happy to report that it is worth every penny (or every nickel, since apparently we're phasing out pennies. Soon they'll only exist in phrases like the above.)

One of the notes mentions the authors spent 4 years on the book, and I'm only surprised it wasn't longer. Sourcebook is an accurate way of describing it, but I think I will be referring to it as the Fiber Bible. They researched and found pictures and wool samples, and prepped and spun fleece, and had micron counts analyzed, and generally put together an amazingly thorough look at the fiber characteristics from pretty much every sheep breed known, including a lot I'd never even heard of. Lonk, Ouessant, Steigar, Zwartbles...the list goes on and on. Heck, I didn't even know there were so many sub-types of Merinos.
And then they have samples and info for just about every fiber animal that isn't a sheep, as well. Right down to possums, cats and wolves.
They have maps of where different fiber animals originate. Definitions of terms used. Charts showing what breeds to look for if you want certain characteristics and end use suitabilities. Bits of history and lore about particular breeds and areas. A lovely bibliography and list of donors and supporters which includes sources for a lot of fleeces shown.

Highly, highly recommended for anyone interested in fiber. I'm reading it cover to cover, and I know I'm going to be looking out for unusual breed fleeces from now on, there are so many types in here that look interesting.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


I got the snowdrop shawl I was working on blocked last night, and this morning it was dry and ready to go.

That kills three or four birds with one stone, as far as I'm concerned. I've removed 700 yards of laceweight from my stash, finished a project which can count for both the lace and destash KALs going on in our group, produced a sample of my pattern I can use to show people, since the original is still off at Storey for their contest, and have a finished item I can sell at one of the craft fairs, perhaps.

The only thing I'm still a little dubious about is the color. I may throw it in a dyebath to tone it down at some point. It's a nice gold, and it certainly makes a statement, but I suspect it's a hard color to wear for most people, including me. The remaining skein of the same yarn in stash is definitely going to get overdyed as well, probably to a green or brown.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Sing a Rainbow

It's unseasonally white outside this morning. I know it's not abnormal for us to get snow in April, but it was still a bit of a shock to wake up this morning with the radio cautioning people that the traffic was slow because of the snow. I expect it was more of a shock for the tulips and daffodils, though.

Inside, however, it's a bit more hospitable - and colorful. The daffodils I picked yesterday look cheerful in their vase, and are scenting half the apartment. The other half of the apartment, by contrast, smells like sulfur - a side effect of the indigo-dyed yarn and roving drying in the bedroom and bathroom. I don't mind the smell, since they look so pretty - navy and sapphire and teal and lime and mint.

The weekend's dyeing went quite well, and if I didn't get a few of the shades I wanted, I succeeded in getting both a crimson/rose range with the cochineal, and real dark blues with the indigo, both things I've had trouble with before. All the non-indigo things are dried and sorted, and getting ready for Saturday.

Dang, I love my dyepots. And here's hoping people love the results as much as I do.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


A week and a half from now is the Arts and Scraps sale here in Ottawa. I hadn't heard of it until this year, but it seems to be a sale where people, mostly crafters and artisans, can destash supplies and show off their work. And seeing as my work is largely producing supplies, I booked a table, and mentally reserved this week and next for prep.

Yesterday and this morning, I've been going through my stash of craft supplies other than yarn, and doing a lot of culling, sorting and labeling, and now have a box full of stuff to destash. Pastels, paints, beads, findings...things I've had for years, sometimes decades. I'm figuring if it hasn't had much use since I moved here in '03, I should probably pass it on. I'm a pack rat at the best of times, so it's a bit of a wrench, even if there's no reason I can think of to keep what must be a litre of pearl beads, or a packet of flat wooden shapes for painting.

And there will be dyed fiber and yarn to bring, both stash and this week's work. My box from Catnip Yarns arrived yesterday, so the mordant pot was going last night, and today will be dividing of things into quantities ready for dyeing and putting in kits. I've been planning to put together kits with my patterns and dyed yarn for the Etsy shop and for the sales I want to participate in this year.

And it's going to be perhaps doubly important that I get as much dyeing and fiber stuff done this spring and summer as possible. It's been close to 5 months I've been hunting for a job since finishing the last one, and the conclusion is looking like I may have to go back to school and get a diploma in something a bit more practical than biochem. Sigh. But financially speaking, the sooner the better, I guess. So I put an     application in for a horticultural program - with a co-op placement, so there will be some income in the second year. I've made it this far without student loans, and it rather galls me to think of needing one now. If I'm careful, and do well at craft fairs and such this year, I may be able to do without a loan, or with only a very small one.

Kinda wishing I'd listened to that voice in my head several years ago, which was suggesting that maybe I should get out of graduate school and do something else. But it was at least a steady salary, and Mom was encouraging me to stay and finish. Now she's the first one to suggest going for something else. Well, I guess I have to have something between now and whenever I get to be a famous designer and dyer...

Saturday, 14 April 2012

High-fiber Lifestyle

Between sharing living space with various pet critters and stashes of yarn/roving/fleece, we kind of joke about our diets and lifestyle being high in fiber - even if the fiber turning up in our dinner plates isn't quite the kind usually recommended by doctors.

If it's any dietary help, though, I expect that I must be getting at least the minimum daily servings, especially this week. 

Thursday afternoon I was over to Deb's. Her neighbor has the local Girl Guide troop, and she had booked us in to teach them how to spin. So after supper we toddled across the street with bags of fleece, to be greeted by almost 2 dozen girls on the lawn, and a similar number of basic spindles. We each took half, and dove in. That's probably the best description of it. They were a great bunch of girls, really, but trying to pay attention to 10 or 12 of them at a time and troubleshoot the spinning was a tad overwhelming at times. I expect the leaders must get the same feeling - one confided (only half jokingly) when we were talking later, that Thursday evenings after meeting were her drinking night. We survived, though, and all the girls managed to spin and rough-ply a few meters of yarn. They then abandoned us to learn to finger-knit from a couple girls who knew how, and to get a quick talk and demo of a sock-knitting machine, from someone I met at the Farm Show not long ago, where she had the sock machine also.

Home and unpack and repack, and back to Deb's Friday morning for Fleece Spa, and putting together the display for Monday's talk with our samples of the rare breeds fibers.

Today I didn't have to go anywhere, so I've been slaving over the stove all day. Not food, but mordanting wool for dyeing. Part of the blanks I ordered arrived Thursday, and so this morning my dining area looked like this, as I divided and weighed.

I can't wait to get started on the fun part, but I have to wait until the rest of the blanks arrive, hopefully early next week, and get mordanted in their turn.  Then I will have to re-sort wool and plan the dyebaths to maximize efficiency. In the meantime, tomorrow I will go out knitting, and hopefully get close to finishing my shawl-in-progress. 

I did wonder today, coming in with the cat, what the neighbors must think is going on in here. The back entry smelled like wet wool, with a bit of a tang from the alum/cream of tartar mordant, and the front entry smelled of mold or damp dirt, from the madder and bedstraw roots I have drying there. Well, no matter about them. I'm off to remove the last chunks of roving from the pot, and make a nice cuppa.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Conditioned Response - Fail

I spent most of Wednesday afternoon and evening running a lifeline in the shawl I'm knitting, so I could rip back and fix the spot where I had dropped a few stitches and couldn't straighten it out.

It was all the moth's fault. And he/she didn't even go near the shawl.

What happened was that Wednesday after lunch, I was knitting while I had my cup of tea. And in the middle of a row, I saw a moth fly nearby. It was the size and color of a wool moth, so I did what I always do - jump up and try to smack  it.

My knitting fell out of my lap. And when I retrieved it, I had a spot in the middle where a stitch or two had fallen off the needles and unraveled themselves 3 or 4 rows down. It was in something like trinity stitch, where on the right side rows, at every stitch you are either increasing from 1 to 3 stitches, or knitting 3 together. I tried for 10 minutes, but couldn't get the dropped stitches picked up so as to repair the spot neatly. So, the lifeline. First one I've ever needed to do. And then pick up all the stitches, slowly, noting that I'd managed to run the lifeline through the lace yarn in places, and had to carefully pull it out of there every few stitches too. The shawl is now back on track.

Next time, though, I'm not going to miss the danged moth.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Easter Weekend

It seemed the Easter Bunny delivered early this year, for on arriving at the parents' Friday night, Mom and I found an egg carton on the table. Dad had found it in the entry when he got home, but had no idea where it came from. No note, no phone message to explain, but inside the carton were a dozen of lovely little quail eggs. Mom made a nest for them of grasses and feathers, and that was our Easter table decoration.

The only person we knew of who had quail nearby raises them for meat, so was unlikely to have many eggs around, and had no reason for delivering them to us if he had eggs. So it remained a mystery until Sunday, when Johanne, who has the alpacas down the road, called up and revealed she had gotten them from someone in her tapestry-weaving class. Mom is planning to let them dry out, so we should have them to grace the table and her collection of birds' nests for years to come.

The weather was nice enough to work outside much of the weekend, so Saturday I began picking and dehairing a rather hay-infested llama fleece, given to me by a friend of Mom's. Some of it will have to be discarded, but it is a nice, soft, dark taupe fleece, and there will certainly be enough usable to make her something as a thank-you, and still have enough for something for me. Sunday I tackled the dye garden, cleaned and trimmed and weeded (and being careless about gloves, managed to scrape a few knuckles and snag skin to a point where the fleece I spun that night was catching on my hands). Several extra greenweed plants got removed, so I threw them in pots, as I remember a few people wanted them. And noting that the madder and bedstraw were trying to escape their boundaries again, I dug around the edges and harvested the strays. That netted me enough of each for a batch of dye, which was rather surprising considering that I did the same thing last year in late summer or fall. Obviously they're happy - and I am too.

I finished spinning my final sample skein from the Rare Breeds fleeces last night, and promptly washed them, so I can knit swatches as soon as possible. The Romney was already washed, and I did that swatch this morning, can't wait to try the others. Back, l-r, pale gray Shetland lamb, cream Border Leicester, and off-white Clun Forest, and in front, darker grey Cotswold.

They are all lovely fleeces and yarns, but the Cotswold, I do admit, has me going a bit Gollum ('Precious, we wants it, we does.')

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

In Love

I've been working away at the fleeces from Rare Breeds, getting my share of the samples done.
The first one I tackled was the Romney, and that was a nice fleece. Fairly clean, bouncy, white, wasn't felting...The Leicester came next, and that one was pretty good too. Stiffer than the Romney, more a wave than a crimp, and yellower, except for a couple batts' worth of some soft, fine, crimpy stuff that looked like a completely different animal. The Clun Forest is dense and crimpy, and has a lot more hay and stuff in it, so I only picked and carded enough to spin a skein, and will tackle the rest when all the samples are done.
Last night I picked Shetland, and there's enough stuff in it that I'm doing the same as the Clun. Got a nice pile picked, enough to spin the sample, but I'm losing a lot of it to brittle/matted ends. What's left is soft and crimpy, so it will be a nice yarn, I'm sure.
I kind of saved the Cotswold for last, as a treat, because I liked it so much on first sight. But after I started picking it this morning, I know I'm past liking - I'm in love. It's gorgeous. I want to take it out with me and show it to people like old ladies do pictures of their grandkids. I vaguely considered skipping going out tonight to stay home and pick Cotswold - and if that's not a sad statement, I don't know what is.
Really, though, what's not to love? It's silky, and shiny, and not felting, and has locks as long as my hand.

It's in shades of grey ranging from the ivory-gray of a snowy sky to almost charcoal in a few places, but most of it is silvery-pewtery colors.

I've sorted it a bit, light to dark, and I can see doing something shaded with it. Lace, probably. It wants to drape, and be something luxurious. (The pile in the top right is Shetland, but the rest is Cotswold. Two heaps begun of picked, and two bigger heaps unpicked.)

The coolest thing about the color, though, is the strands aren't grey. It's all from different ratios of black and white fibers. I think it gives it more depth.

Oh, I can't wait to spin it. And I've decided I want a Cotswold sheep (or several) of my own someday.  

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Treasure Hunt

Between Fleece Spa on Friday and the Friday knit-out, Deb and I decided to make a stop at the Value Village near her place. Um, yeah, so we never actually made it to the knit-out. Poking in second-hand stores can really eat at your time. Definitely worth the stop though.

My intention going in was to look for dyepots, storage racks, do a run through the fabric/sheets/curtains to see if there was any fabric Mom would want for her rug weaving, and my usual poke through the book section. Found two great dyepots, one with a strainer insert, which is a bonus for any dyebaths involving chopped plants. Spent a while in the books and movies, emerging with a nice little pile. We poked at all the yarns and craft supplies, and went through the fabric and bedding throughly. No sheets or cotton of the type Mom likes, but I found a couple things for me instead. In the fabrics was a 2.5 yard piece of what I'm sure is raw silk. Heavy and drapey and oatmeal-colored. It may turn into a skirt. At any rate, we couldn't leave it there!

So what's the dark piece on top of the silk? Just across the aisle was a section with shawls and scarves. I saw one which was a green wool with what, at first glance, looked like an embroidered ribbon trim. A second look revealed the trim was embroidered on directly, and looks like hand embroidery. Either that or they've come up with a machine that has the same irregularities and finishing techniques as a human.

The embroidered trim makes a band all the way around a pashmina-sized area. The patience and time it would have required! And here it was in the second-hand store. The ends need to be hemmed, but that is a comparatively small job. One of those things where you almost wish you knew the story behind it. Who made it? Why did it end up being given away, when it was so nearly finished? Where did the embroiderer get the pattern, so dense and flowing and rich?

That's the thing with the second-hand places. Some days you find very little, and other days you find treasures, and it's always an adventure.