Friday, December 29, 2006

As the dust settles....

The dust is starting to settle from Christmas excitement and thoughts are turning to the new year. What will be my resolutions? What do I need to finish up from 2006? And what new adventures can I plan for 2007? While I contemplate these important questions, here is a project I completed in time for Christmas.

This pillow cover is made from commercially-spun thick and thin yarn. Since I had limited time, I chose to knit the pillow cover on the bias. Yes, I know there are just as many stitches regardless of the direction, but starting at the corner with just a few stitches allowed me to avoid knitting a swatch. I just increased until the garter-stitch fabric was an inch or so narrower than the pillow insert, then started decreasing along one edge, while still increasing along the other. When the longer edge was twice the length of the pillow, plus some, I changed to decreasing on both edges. The result was a long rectangle. I picked up and knitted 4 inches of rib on each end, then sewed up the pillow cover so that the overlap would be in the middle back of the pillow. Stuffing the pillow inside, I found that the overlap wasn't enough to avoid gapping, so I added three matching buttons. The buttons are small enough that they can be pushed through the ribbing without making buttonholes. With one extra skein I made the 4 tassels. Result: one soft, yet interestingly textured pillow.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Wishing for Peace and Good Will for All!

I've been so very busy dealing with the detritus of a busy year that I keep forgetting to relax and enjoy the holiday season. To remind myself I look at the ornaments on my tree, each of them a record of special friends and good times, vacations and other travels through life. Some are made by my talented comrades in fiber art, others were picked up as souvenires to remind me of trips to special places, and still more are symbols of my shifting enthusiasms over the various stages of my life. All-in-all, my tree serves as a personal resume that tells all about my life, yet can only be read by me.

Happy holidays to you and yours!! May the new year add a few more treasured memories to next year's tree.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Snow day

I had major ambition to do my Christmas baking today but I woke up to enough snow that a trip to the grocery store for a necessary ingrediant was not to be accomplished. Instead there was plenty of shoveling, then time to work on more burning of the trailer table. After about 6 more hours of work my hand is cramped and sore, but I am victorious in having completed burning the pattern. Although I did burn "2006" onto the bottom, I probably won't complete the painting and sealing until into the new year. It will be nice to install my first bit of customization into the trailer and make her really mine!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Table progress report

I'm moving along on creating a new table for the trailer. I spent several hours Monday evening drawing the design in pencil. Tonight I started the woodburning. I completed the general structure of the vines and the center part of the sun design in about 3.5 hours. I still have thousands of little leaves to burn and the rays of the sun before I can start painting. The grain in the plywood makes even burning pretty difficult.

Enough for tonight. I'll press on tomorrow evening.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

One size only fits some

I have just committed to having the little trailer road-ready for an event in March. That leaves lots to do in a short time. One of the projects I am doing for her is to replace the splintery-on-the-bottom-and-boring-on-the-top table with something more, well, artsy. It has to fit into the slot between the benches and be strong enough to function as part of the bed, so I settled on 3/4 inch plywood. For added strength I will add the angle iron pieces that are attached to the current table. After careful measurement I went to Home Depot for plywood, woodfiller, and an orbital sander. Being an optimist, I figured the only difficulty in choosing a power tool was being confused by a myriad of accessory options. Instead I learned a depressing fact: they don't make them for people with small hands. An orbital sander requires the user to grasp the top of the tool to control it. It was immediately clear that almost all of them are made for large-handed gorillas. Only one was small enough for my hand - the Black & Decker "Mouse". This is a cute little thing that would make serious tool guys sneer. It looks more like a propless helicopter than a mouse. It works well enough and has cool "Gel" pads that cushion the hand from the vibrations. I sanded the table top, rounding the edges and corners. I applied wood filler to the gaps in the plies along the edges, and will give it a sanding with a finer grit when the filler dries. Then I get to do the fun part - designing, woodburning and painting. Meanwhile, I have learned that sawdust sticks remarkably well to flannel pajamas.

Yesterday was the spinning guild's annual Holiday Party. Along with a fabulous potluck, a silent auction, and general merriment, we had an ornament exchange. I was happy to see that several needle-felted ornaments had resulted from last month's workshop. I do believe I made the score of the day, since I ended up with this fabulous felted dog made by Connie. She is modeled after Connie's dog, Sophie. Isn't she fabulous!?!

Must go work on holiday projects while the wood-filler dries...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Christmas Secrets, Glorious Yellow, and Knitting at the DMV

As the holidays grow larger on the horizon, my spare time is taken over by secret Christmas projects. No pictures or details will be given out until after the magic morning. You'll just have to check back.

Meanwhile, I have found myself short on yellow so last night I mixed up a dyepot with a generous amount of "Sabraset Sun Yellow 180". I threw in a mixed mass of white wool including romney, merino, and some alpaca. I stewed the stuff in the crockpot on low for a couple of hours. The resulting color (after rinsing) was the most glorious yellow imaginable! Unfortunately the picture doesn't come close to its full glory. There was still plenty of dye in the pot, so I threw in a mixed bunch of... well.... pretty ugly pastel stuff. The blue turned to a nice green, but the best transformation of all was the pink mohair curls that turned a beautiful russet orange-gold. The dyepot still wasn't exhausted so I threw in more white and and left it slowly cooling in the crockpot overnight. The result was a lemon yellow - not as glorious as the first batch, but good enough to allow me to save the first batch for a special project.

Saturday I took my new little trailer to the DMV for VIN inspection and registration. This should have been relatively simple. It took over 4 hours. The VIN was nowhere to be found and the nice inspector's computerized engraving tool refused to engrave through 53 year old petrified paint. He ended up dusting off an old toolbox full of metal stamps and hammering the VIN into the trailer tongue with a heavy mallet. (The folks in the cars behind me in line looked kinda testy, but noone honked. Perhaps that was due to the obvious presence of traffic cops.) Once inside, the DMV officer mistyped my drivers license and, due to the arcane complexity of the DMV's computer system, it took several supervisors and a couple of hours to keep my trailer's plates from being mailed to some guy named Roger Marsh. This is where the magical stress-relieving properties of knitting came into play. I just sat back in my chair and knitted. Although I did not, as predicted by one frustrated employee, finish a sweater while I waited, I was able to remain calm and breezy.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Trailer Retrieval Saga

During the week of Thanksgiving I went to Arizona to visit the folks and collect my little travel trailer. Here she is in Arizona. Isn't she cute!?! She'll be even cuter when she has been spiffed up with a new paint job.

In the past week or so I have learned a lot. Here are a few of the things I have learned:

1. Trailer hitches come in a vast variety of heights, even if the guy at U-Haul who installed your hitch neglected to mention this fact.
2. Trailer tires cost more than regular car tires.
3. Soon after learning fact #2, Murphey's Law guarantees that other expensive auto repair will suddenly be required.
4. Single-axle trailers are a bit tricky to back up.
5. When you mention you are buying a trailer, people you don't even know show up to give you advice on how to back it up.
6. Your ability to back it gracefully is inversely proportionate to the number of people who are watching.
7. It is important to have trailer bearings repacked, because a former owner may have done it himself and bungled the job.
8. If you carefully park the trailer in a back corner of a parking lot, leaving just enough room to pull out, other drivers will think you know something special and carefully wedge their SUVs into the narrow spots at either end.
9. When you finally find coffee during the long trip across the Nevada Desert, it will come in a cup with a mysterious, yet persistant dribble.

She is now comfy and cozy under a tarp in my driveway, waiting for spring.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Spring leaves for winter knitting

I have been longing to knit with handspun. There are many fabulous commercially spun yarns to choose from, and I have regularly fallen prey to their wiles and now own bins and baskets full of them, yet they never give quite the satisfaction that comes from knitting with my own handspun. So with a holiday weekend ahead of me I pulled out some lovely handspun that was waiting patiently in my fiber room for just the right project. I bought the fiber at Black Sheep Gathering a couple of years ago. It is 50%-50% wool-mohair from BearDog Fibers. They called the colorway "Spring Leaves". I kept passing it by as I wandered about the Market, telling myself that I had absolutely no need for it. It wormed its way into my conciousness and just as we were leaving the last day, I dashed back in and bought all they had. Not as much as I would normally buy for a don't-know-what-the-project-will-be project, but enough for something. I spun the fiber up into an approximately fingering weight yarn, to get as much yardage as possible. Still I had no project in mind and the yarn was put away for future inspiration. The inspiration came from Birdsong's Blog. She recently made a "Seraphim Shawl" using a pattern available from I admired it greatly and purchased the pattern. "Spring Leaves" sounds just right for the leaf-patterned lace border. I have started the shawl and it is working up quickly so far. It starts at the back of the neck and worked outwards, with the lace knitting at the end. I am taking it on faith that I have enough yarn, since I neglected to McMorran it. (Taking chances makes life interesting, right?)

I hope everyone's Thanksgiving is fun and safe. Me, I'll be overeating and knitting with happy, fuzzy, green handspun.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Tiling

Wednesday I finished up the Tile Mosaic class that I took through the Washoe County School District. Having learned a lot from my mutant cow trivet, I created and completed a sun design on a wooden tray. I found the octagonal wooden tray for about fifty cents at Salvation Army. I was attracted to the unusual shape. The tile used for the design came from a gold painted flowerpot, a ceramic halloween pumpkin, and a ceramic duckie box from my bathroom. I tried to purchase yellow tiles at Home Depot, but apparently yellow is out of style - not a yellow tile to be had! So the duckie gave its life for art. Well... craft, anyway. I planned to cover the sides with tile as well, but I ran out of time.

I still need to practice some on my grouting technique, but I feel confident that, with a bit of preplanning, I can tackle the bathrooms. I just need to choose a color pallette and start accumulating the right stuff to smash.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Needle Felting Workshop

Today I taught needle-felting as a workshop after the Guild meeting. Yesterday I got together with Sharon and Mim to make some sample items to show folks some of the easy things they can make. The small ball was made by Sharon, Mim made the Christmas stocking ornament, and we all worked on the snowman.

Last night I continued making samples, including a pony (created by wrapping roving around pipecleaners), a sun, and a couple of "squiggle ball" ornaments. For the workshop, I showed folks the basics, passed out needles and sponges, and we all dove into the piles of fibers. Although many folks started with basic balls, Toni made a llama, Polly made a furry tribble with a shiny silver glitz hat, and Heidi made an ornament shaped like a wrapped present.

As the "teacher", I was pleased by the occasional silence, interspersed with discussion and laughter as everyone concentrated and shared their projects. I was also pleased that noone needed the large box of bandaids I had on hand! I made a third squiggle ball (I like playing with layer upon layer of bright colors). I sent everyone home with their needles and sponges, so I am looking forward to seeing what shows up at the next meeting's ornament exchange!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Day devoted to Craft

Today was the second half of my 2-part workshop on Japanese Wood Block Printing. Everyone had their blocks carved, so we went right to work printing. During the course of the day I made 9 prints, each with 3 seperate colors printed from seperate blocks. Although I can't claim any great results, I did learn a lot from each print run. Here is the best of them. Not exactly what I was going for, but what I've learned can be applied to better planned future projects.

After the class (and after a shopping spree in the Museum Shop) I took a tour of local thrift shops to buy stuff to use in my mosaic class. I am now the proud owner of a mass of ugly, but interestingly colored or textured, china. Plus I bought several wooden boxes, bookends, and a tray that could be the base to mosaic on top of. The best scores were from the bargain room of the local Good Will. There the posted price is $1 per pound, but the clerk eyeballed my shopping cart full of china and charged me only $14! And that included a cool vintage wall sconce that I may clean up, rewire and install somewhere.

Now on to knitting before bed.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tiling inadequacy

Wednesday I had my first session of a 3-part Tile Mosaic class. While it was loads of fun, and I can really get into applying hammer to tile, my initial effort leaves a lot to be desired. Let me help you out - it's supposed to be a cow. Perhaps abstracts are more my style. This weekend I am off to thrift shops looking for odd items to break into little pieces or glue little pieces onto.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Creative stuff....

What a busy weekend! Friday was a holiday (Nevada Statehood Day) so I spent it getting a trailer hitch and trailer electrics installed, checking out campground and travel guides at Borders, and otherwise dreaming happily about my little trailer-to-be. I have been pondering the perfect paint job for her so I made up a template to try out designs. Here is my favorite so far. Since she will live most of the time in my lavender-filled front yard, I think this could be just about right. I have joined Sisters on the Fly, and am now proudly "Sister No. 606". Check out the Caravan Trailers on the SotF site.

Saturday I had my first session of a 2-weekend Japanese Printmaking class at the Nevada Museum of Art. At the beginning of the class, the teacher asked each of the dozen students to introduce themselves and tell their art background. I was a bit intimidated to learn that half the class have MFAs, teach college-level art, or have studied art in exotic foreign places. Toward the end of the day I went around and looked at what folks were carving on their blocks and most of them were using finely detailed ambitious images. My snake design is looking rather cartoonish in comparison. It was lots of fun, anyway, and as part of the class we got to tour the ongoing exhibit of Whistler's prints. I have spent most of today continuing to carve my blocks (and vaccuming any wood shavings that weren't already embedded in my socks). I will be printing one image using three different blocks. Since we will be using watercolor pigments, where the images overlap, the colors will blend. The final image (assuming I did this right) will be of three snakes intertwined against a patterned background. Yes, I know it is snakes again, but they really are easy to draw. Across the snakes I carved the words "SOME SNAKES SLITHER". When I planned this, I had no idea how hard it is to carve "S"es. We get to print next session.

A quick knitting note or two: The red socks came out of the wash wonderfully. They shrunk only the needed amount and they are now soft and thick. The fingerless gloves are coming along, but it turned out the stitch repeat causes the yellow to stack up in an unattractive way. Eileen and Laura have both suggested cures for this, but I have decided to just slog on and see what they look like in the end. The suri alpaca feels wonderful running through my hands and the gloves are knitting up quickly despite the size 1 needles. I'll post a picture when I get further along.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Busy busy fall...

This is turning out to be the busiest fall I can remember. Beyond work, which gets busier every year, I am signed up for classes in both Japanese printmaking and broken tile mosaic, I will be giving a workshop in needle-felting Christmas ornaments, and I am making an heroic effort to dig out my studio. Right in the middle of that, I have fallen for the charms of the perfect little vintage travel trailer. Isn't she cute?! I plan to make customizing her my next big art project. She will be perfect to take to Guild Retreats and Fiber festivals! And just think of all the possible handspun, and handwoven, and handknit items I can make for her! Guess what color I want to paint her...

Amid all this excitement I have finished the red socks. They are a bit big, but that is a good thing. I have noticed that the wool socks that accidentally make their way into the wash not only come out smaller, but they tend to wear like iron. I was planning to try turning them inside out and surface felting them a bit, but maybe I'll just throw them in with the next load of red stuff I do. Now that I have them done, I am allowing myself to start on the fingerless gloves.

Finally, it is just plain gorgeously autumn out there. So here are a couple of pictures I took today around campus.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Results of Red (and a bit of blue)

All of the products of the crockpot are now dry. Except for the now-orange beast roving, which is truly ugly, I can imagine a future for them all. I am dying (and dyed) to start knitting the fingerless gloves, but I must be stern with myself and finish my red socks first.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Crockpot, dyepot, and red, red, red....

In order to launch into spinning the fiber from my last post, I had to clear out a few bobbins. I plyed together 2 bobbins of rather hairy grey alpaca. From its texture I think it must be suri alpaca. The result was a couple of skeins with enough yarn to make a pair of fingerless gloves. I work in a building with 1950's heat/ac and there are times my hands get almost too cold to type. To make the gloves interestingly striped, I decided to space-dye the two skeins. Bright colors would be muted by the grey of the yarn. In the throws of a nasty cold, I didn't have the energy to drag out the dyepots, so I sacrificed my crockpot to the greater good of fiberart. (In the past I have dyed in the crockpot with Koolaid only to keep it food-safe. One experience with acid dyes and it will never see food again. My mother suggests that I label it with a skull and crossbones.) Here is the step-by-step process I used:

I tied the two skeins together at 4 points so that the color variegations would be the same length in both skeins.

I soaked the yarn in warm water for 20 minutes or so, with a little dishsoap as a wetting agent.

I set up the crockpot with two glass canning jars inside.

Shuffling through my collection of dyes, I chose sun yellow, mountain blue, and grevillea (yellow, blue and red). A purist would have weighed out the fiber and mixed up dye solutions, adding just the right amount after careful calculations. I don't do math on weekends, especially not when I don't feel well. So I filled each canning jar, and the crockpot around them, about 2/3rds full of warm water. I sprinkled red into one jar, blue into another, and yellow into the surrounding water.

I stirred each color with a seperate chopstick (very handy items - I always pick up an extra set when buying Chinese food). I set the crockpot to low.

Then I stuck one end of the presoaked skein in the red jar and the other in the blue jar, letting the lengths between drape into the yellow. I put the lid on and left the whole thing to simmer for about 2.5 hours. Then I turned off the crockpot and let it cool for a couple of hours. The aforementioned purist has unending patience and would let it cool overnight. I'm not a purist.

When I rinsed out the skein it ran a lot, but the remaining color is anything but subtle.

Here it is hanging in the sun to dry.

Since there was still plenty of dye in the pot, I stuffed some white wool into the blue and now tomato red liquid (I accidently knocked over the red into the yellow). After simmering for a couple more hours, the blue was exhausted, but the red was still going strong. So I added more water and stuffed a bunch of "Beast" roving into the pot. Then I threw in some yellow roving to be overdyed. The pot was still not exhausted, but what was left became more and more orange. The next morning I threw in even more fiber. Finally exhausted!

All in all, the actual energy required for this project was low and the length of simmering time for each batch of fibers allowed plenty of nap time.

Spinning from Batts

In my feeble attempt to bring order to the chaos of my fiber room, I found a bag of alpaca/wool batts that I bought from Merry Meadows Farm at the 2005 Dixon Lambtown Festival. Having a short attention span, I immediately dropped all my ongoing spinning projects, and set out to spin these soft, luscious batts.

According to the receipt, I have 14 and 5/8 oz of the stuff (who has a scale that weighs in eighths of an oz?). This will be too much for some things and not enough for others. Ignoring all impracticalities, and assuming the resulting yarn will tell me what it wants to be, I set forth. The color ranges of the fiber run lengthwise in each batt.
I rolled the batt like a jelly roll, then pulled it out into roving from the end.This strategy mostly kept the color ranges together. I spun it fine, then plied it into a 2-ply yarn of approximately fingering weight. I love the way the swatch comes out! When I have all the batts done, I'll McMorran it to estimate the yardage. Only then will I be able to figure out its final destination.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Textile Tales II

Here is another of my favorite children's books with textile themes. Ursula K. Le Guin's (yes, the one of SciFi fame) A Ride on the Red Mare's Back is a wonderful tale of a girl from the snowy north who takes a journey to rescue her little brother who has been stolen away by trolls. She is aided by a magical wooden horse toy, and ultimately she rescues her brother with the red scarf she has lovingly knit for him as her first knitting project. The watercolor illustrations by Julie Downing are absolutely beautiful. My copy is signed by the illustrator, who added this little horse drawing.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Retreat to Davis Creek

The 2006 CSSW Spinsters' Retreat was this past weekend. The weather was perfect, the company was fine, the Swap n' Sale shopping was great, but sadly I forgot to put the chip back in my camera when I cleared it out to take with me. Sigh. So there are no pictures. To make it up to you, I humbly submit these two pictures from last year's Retreat.
Each year we hold the Spinsters' Retreat at Davis Creek Park in Washoe Valley. Northern Nevada weather being what it is, sometimes we fry and sometimes we freeze. Occasionally we do both in the same weekend. This year the weather gods smiled upon us and it was just right - warm during the day and cold enough at night to make roasting marshmallows at the campfire a necessity. The only casualty of the weekend was the loss of my telescoping weenie fork, which rolled off a rock and was stepped on in the dark. Ah well, it roasted many a perfect marshmallow while it lasted.
The Retreat is all about unwinding with friends and fibers. This year Becky and her daughter Jerica made it all the way from Battle Mountain and Wayne came all the way from somewhere in the general direction of Yerington. Some folks stayed all weekend and some just for Saturday. Linda gave a workshop on fiber preperation, and we all did some shopping from each others' fiber stashes. Saturday night included exploration of the perfect marshmallow roasting technique, along with how to spindle or knit by only the light of a campfire. Each night concluded with the puzzle of fitting 3 coolers and all other edibles into a single bear safe.

Sunday morning we all concluded that it would be fun to have a spring retreat out Becky's direction. Maybe at Rye Patch State Recreation Area. Stay tuned for details. I promise to double check I have all my camera parts next time!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Defenseless against clever packaging

Blue Sky Alpacas, the people who tempt us with yummy soft alpaca yarn and comfy colored organic cotton, are now selling irrestible little tins filled with sets of five 5" wooden needles. Different sizes come in different color tins. They have the charming little phrase on them, "FOR KNITTING SMALL THINGS". Since I like to knit both socks at the same time, I was moved to buy 2 sets. Aren't they too cute for words!! The 5" size is great for stowing away in my purse without causing puncture wounds whenever I reach for my wallet.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

(Almost) Immovable Objects

After a long, busy week at work, I was looking forward to a quiet weekend immersed in fibers. It didn't work out that way. Saturday I went to Costco for new tires. While they were installing them I walked across the parking lot to check out Bare Naked Furniture. They had the perfect dining table. And it was on sale as the last one of that model they had. I immediately started thinking about all the designs I could make with my wood burning tool! Yes, I had to have it! So when my truck was ready I helped the salesman load it into the back of my truck. Solid birch and REALLY heavy. This brings me to the 'immovable' part. It is still in the back of my truck. I cannot move it on my own. The one drawback to living alone is that there is noone to hold up the other end of a piece of furniture. Happily, my friend Linda (of the fabulous mohair eyeglass cozy) is coming over today to help me shift it.

I spent all afternoon yesterday clearing off, dismantling and removing the old table. That left a big open space in the kitchen, just right for cat olympics. What do you do with old cash-register tape when you get a new model? I unrolled several full rolls in tangles all over the house. Zach particularly enjoys diving into it and rolling around.

As for me, I am thinking about all the possibilities for finishing my new table. More vines, I think, and perhaps frogs....

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Textile tales

Birdsong's latest post about teaching knitting to kids inspired me to think about some of my favorite books - children's books with knitting or spinning or weaving themes. There are plenty of great one's to be found. I went through my disorganized bookshelves and pulled out my small collection. It was fun to revisit them. In some the textile is a major theme, in others it is part of the background. My favorite is probably "The Mitten", adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett. This is from a Ukrainian folk tale. A young boy begs his grandmother for white mittens and when he loses one in the snow, it is inhabited by a progression of animals from a little mole to a great bear. The mitten stretches to accommodate each new occupant until finally the bear sneezes and the mitten is thrown up in the air and the boy sees it silhouetted against the sky. The final page features the grandmother looking with puzzlement at the two mittens, one stretched much larger than the other. I told you the whole story because I wanted to relate one of my most successful knitted gifts. When my niece was little I sent her a copy of the book, along with a pair of white mittens. (I added a black row to the beginning of the cuffs, so she wouldn't lose them in the snow.) My sister told me that the book became a favorite and she would see my niece outside, throwing one of the mittens into the air to see it silhouetted, just like in the book.

I hope it made up for the earlier multi-colored pair I sent that, when left to dry by the radiator, bled bright-colored permanent stains onto my sister's carpeting.