Thursday, July 26, 2007

Canned Sheep

Some people don't believe in Kismet (or serendipity, if you prefer a more elegant word).

But I do.

How else do I account for another spinning wheel coming into my life in almost the exact same way that my first wheel found me and made me buy it? And only a matter of weeks after I told the story of my original wheel in my May 29 post?

Once again, I was not shopping for a wheel. I was flipping through the newspaper and my glance fell on "SPINNING WHEEL" in the classified ads. And folks, it's not like Baton Rouge is throbbing with disillusioned handspinners looking to unload their gear. Stumbling across that classified ad was pure luck. When I phoned, I learned that it was the last day of the ad run, and the seller hadn't received any calls but mine.

The seller was an extremely pleasant woman who was selling her house and, after much consideration, had decided to part with her spinning wheel. She'd done a lot of handspinning back in the '70s, and a good bit of dyeing as well, but her interest in spinning waned over the past 20-odd years, so she parked the wheel by the fireplace as a conversation piece, and packed the other supplies in her attic, where they've remained since the mid-1980s.

There were two Romney fleeces, each packed into an airtight five-gallon flour tin. One was in fairly good condition, as you can see from the portion remaining in the can. It had been purchased clean and scoured, and had been packed away untouched. It does need a warm bath to loosen up a good bit of caked lanolin, but it's definitely salvagable:

The wheel itself is an Ashford Traditional, and, as a testament to Ashford's reputation, it operated smoothly for a test-drive after sitting in a corner, unoiled for over two decades:

The keenly observant among you may ask, "what's that hanging off the wheel there, near the knob for the Scoth tension? The orifice hook had gone missing, so the seller had replaced it with a loop of stout nylon fishing line attached to a bit of cotton cord. The wheel is in excellent condition, missing only the spring for the Scotch tension (although I rigged a temporary substitute with a piece of cotton twine so I could give it a test drive).

It also came with carders, a noddy, a lazy Kate, two drop spindles and a lump of brown fleece of indeterminate sheepy origin, the lot being inspected by Blue, the feline in charge of incoming inventory here at the Asylum. He was particularly interested in smelling the brown fleece:

Inside the box containing the accessories was a smaller box contaning some samples of natural sheep-colored and vegetable-dyed handspun yarn, each neatly tagged with the dyeing information:

Also included was the dyebook documenting the owner's numerous experiements with natural dyes, ranging from the brightly colored onionskin and marigold samples shown below, to subtle hues of pink and lavender from local roots and flowers. She was a busy dyer back in the day -- there were over 200 samples in the ring binder:

And last, here's the second fleece, which had apparently been sold fresh-shorn and then stored away unscoured, firmly packed into a five-gallon tin much too small for its volume. See how it broke apart into two heavy lumps there on the right? I doubt that this fleece is salvagable, but I'll give it a try anyway. I definitely won't have garment-quality wool, but if I scour it well and card it mercilessly, I just might have passable rug yarn.

The worst that can happen is that I'll have clean wool for stuffing pillows.

And check out the groovy vintage paper bag from Wildfower Fibres in Oregon. Now I'm itching to find out if they are still in business. Anybody out there remember them? To add to the '70s appeal, the wheel came with its original paperwork, and the fleeces came with their own vintage invoices as well: a grand total of fourteen dollars and twenty cents, including postage and handling!

The decent-looking wool from the first photo went into a mesh bag and was soaked the bathtub overnight with 1/4 cup of Dawn dishwashing liquid, in hopes of loosening up that caked lanolin. That fleece was reasonably clean -- after an all-night soak, the lanolin de-caked and the fleece opened up ... the water was just a little bit on the murky side:

This was drained, rinsed, and given a second wash with Mane-n-Tail horse shampoo. Tomorrow it will be placed under the carport, on a raised rack, in hopes of drying. When it's still slightly damp; it will be spritzed with a 1/32 mixture of hair conditioner and water, wrapped in brown paper, placed inside the car, and parked in the sun, to steam. This is not a scientific proportion, I just find that an ounce of conditioner dissolved in a quart of water sprays nicely and doesn't make the fleece sticky.This is the best way I know to loosen up old lanolin in a fleece that's been sitting around for awhile.

My hopes are not nearly as high for the other fleece, but I'll give it a soak and a fair chance.

The best part? The owner was mainly looking for a good home for this wheel. She didn't want to simply sell it to the highest bidder on Ebay. I couldn't even have bought a new noddy, lazy Kate and hand carders for her asking price, which included the wheel and everything else. I call that a bargain. She just wanted to re-home her wheel and make a spinner happy.

She did.

Meanwhile, I'm so delighted to have such a nice wheel at such a bargain that I'm trying to think of something nice to do for her, with all her handspun samples. They, too, are a bit stiff and gummy, having been dyed in the grease and stored in her attic all these years. I think there's enough to make a nice, felted pillow. Maybe I'll do that, and leave it on her doorstep one night, so she will have a souvenir from her spinning and dyeing days.

Now to see if that other fleece is salvagable.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Cats, Tornadoes
and Time Management

Some random things from this week:

Tessie, our eldest cat, she of the achy joints and great fondness for all things soft and warm, loves her new, felted pad. You can make one for your cat, too -- my Critter Cozy pattern is just a few posts back, on July 4, 2007.

On Thursday, I took a weekday off to visit my Mom in New Orleans, and while I was there, a storm front came through the city, and this is what appeared over Lake Pontchartrain. It's a waterspout -- a tornado over water -- a couple of miles offshore and about 5 miles north of downtown New Orleans. The weather goddess was merciful, and the horrid thing both touched down and spent itself out over the vast lake. If you look closely, can you see the huge white wake of high waves and white foam it created in the water as it moved from right to left? Pity the folks fishing, and the leisure boaters out there. That is actually a column of water -- many tons of water being sucked up into the sky. It was HUGE -- consider that the shoreline is several miles away from the photographer, who was high up in a downtown building -- a close call, and terrifying to behold:

And no, I didn't take the picture. The credit belongs to New Orleans' key newspaper, the Times-Picayune, copyright 2007. For more on the waterspout story, you can click on and search for "waterspout." The city has already suffered a couple of devastating tornadoes since Katrina. They didn't need another one.

And ...

Look, cats on laundry!

Why don't you admire these lovely cats for a moment before I go off on a rant?
Jigsaw (the muted tortoiseshell) and Guinness (the tuxedo) are shown here, making themselves useful. Somebody has to keep the laundry from escaping.

I've had another uninspiring workweek, so my creative streak is sorely strained. The downside of grant-writing for humane non-profits is that so much time is spent waiting for answers,waiting for requests for more information, waiting for feedback. And as I am not working actively in a shelter or clinic at the moment, I get dispirited during long spells with little feedback from the prospective funding agencies. If you like swimming through peanut butter, consider a career in the non-profit sector!

In addition, our little spell of Seattle-like weather passed as quickly as it came. So I've been indoors most of the weekend, working on a shawl and spinning, and reading the knit lists as well as other people's blogs. Which brings me to my ....

Yarn Diet Spoiler

Those of you who know me personally know that I'm the sort of person who's the first to point out that you're probably not going to lose weight and keep it off on that new celebrity diet, and you won't end up looking like a celebrity or hanging out with one on the weekends, either. Call me a spoilsport, but it's my nature.

I'm also likely to point this out while chomping on a mouthful of chips.

So I need to know ... what's going on with this "no buying yarn for a year" fad? On the KnitList, KnitU and on many, many blogs, knitters are fretting out loud over their stashes, determined to buy no more yarn. Those who have a moment of weakness berate themselves publicly after indulging in a paltry skein of sock yarn. Many people are also de-stashing.

This wouldn't bother me if a few individuals in posession of seriously out-of-control stashes were providing the knitting Internet with amusing descriptions of their space-saving woes.

But it's not just a few people with comically unmanageable stashes who are going public with this. One knitter after another seems to be jumping on the de-stash wagon, for what seems to be no good reason. Why?

Everyone else is doing it.

Many people with stashes of a perfectly modest and humble size (say, a closet full or less) have suddenly found themselves wracked with guilt and have jumped on the idea of self-flagellation with acrylic I-cord: "Bad knitter! Self-indulgent! Too much yarn!"

What's going on with this? Why the guilt? Is it another excercise in womanly self-denial?
If I look around real hard under my own saddle, I think that's the burr I'll find. So many of the women I see de-stashing just happen to discreetly mention that a husband or boyfriend has decreed that they have "too much yarn."
Some of these self-appointed yarn managers have found the knitter "disorganized," insisting that she chose only one project at a time and buy only the yarn needed for the desired garment. Others declare that too much money is being spent, and demand that spending cease immediately.
One young knitter, who I know from the LYS, confided that her husband decided that she was spending too much time knitting, and that he was uncomfortable with her knitting in front of his friends because he feels that knitting is "dorky and behind the times," and (here's the kicker) "why don't you find a sexier hobby?"
Which begs the question, what is she supposed to do with all the "free time" she'd have without her knitting? Scrub flooors on her hands and knees? And how is she supposed to demonstrate a state of sexy and au courant non-dorkiness? Should she pole dance instead of knitting?

Sadly, none of these knitters write about what the complaining husband or boyfriend is doing to contribute his share of self-sacrifice to the family budget, household storage space, or self-improvement through austere hobby management. There is no mention of sadly foregone titanium golf clubs, no discussion of the sale of surplus computerized gadgets, no sportscars going up on Ebay, and no talk of cancelling any subsciptions to Playboy or Sports Illustrated.
And that bugs me. I do not intend to be sexist in this little rant, but so far I have not found one male knitter who's jumped on the de-stashing wagon because his wife, partner or significant other has drawn a line in the sand and laid out the ultimatum of No More Yarn.

So... hey cowgirls, are y'all listening?

If your kids and pets are not in danger of starvation ...

If you are not accumulating massive credit card debt...

why jump on this particular bandwagon?

Think about it:

Your local yarn shop counts on your business.

Employees count on the LYS for jobs.

When yarn shops close, employees lose jobs and yarn companies don't get orders.

When yarn manufacturers don't get orders, they cut back on production.

When they cut back on production, employees lose jobs and wool producers lose orders.

When wool producers lose orders...

Do you see where I am going with this? If everyone joins in on a fad of self-deprivation at once, the whole yarn and wool industry will suffer.

Rant over.

Me, I am counting on my yarn and fleece stash for retirement entertainment. Dave and I live in a cluttered house full of yarn and books and records and cats, as well as Dave's Museum of Obsolete Technology. He has manual typewriters, and I have spinning wheels.

And, speaking of which:

That lovely Oussant fleece sample from Jo is ready to be spun. The drudge of the past week was pleasantly interrupted by a spinning windfall. More on that later.


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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hello ... Seattle?
We have your weather,
and we're not giving it back.

Some Sunday mornings start out with a good, long, lazy sleep-in, to the tune of rain hammering on the roof:

And when the rain stopped, I went to the door, bracing myself for a blast of superheated, humid air.
But it wasn't there.

I looked everywhere: in the garden, under my car, in the mailbox. But July in Baton Rouge was nowhere to be found.

Due to a complete freak of Nature, we're having a cool front in July -- a precious few days of daytime temps in the high 70s F. (Okay, it might hit 80F tomorrow, but still). And, if you can sneak outside between the torrential downpours (that's the catch), you can do what I did this morning -- stroll outdoors with your cup of coffee, and have the following conversation with a neighborhood cat:

Me: "This is unbelievable. It's ten o'clock on a Sunday morning in the middle of July, and it's 72 degrees."

Cat: "Meow."

Me: "What gives? Not that I'm complaining. Not at all. I'm just stunned. In shock, actually. I need to find out how this happened."

Cat: "Meow."

I spot a neighbor jogging -- yes, jogging -- towards me and I wave at her, calling out "Morning!"

(Yes, I am the kind of helpful person to point out the fact that it is, indeed, not dark.)

Jogger, slowing down: "Good morning!"

Me, sweeping out my arms all-inclusively: "What happened?"

Jogger, not needing any further explanation for the nature of my question: "Beats me, but I'm not asking any questions. This is too nice."

Me: "I think UPS got our weather delivery mixed up with Seattle."

Jogger: "No doubt ... Isn't it great!"

Me: "Sure is! Later!"

Jogger: "Later!"

Cat: "Meow."

I spread my arms and take in the coolness (77 is cool, my friends ... it was 96 two days ago). The cat licks his left front paw and then sniffs the nearby border grass, no doubt contemplating a hunt for field mice on this fine day.

Frogs and toads are chorusing a hallelujah choir of pure amphibian joy. I take my coffee to the porch and sit there, watching the neighbors walk by (people are outside!). The lack of heat is so remarkable that entire families are outdoors, walking the kids and the dogs, marveling at the wonder of it.

Y'all have to understand that even a few summer days like this are absolutely and completely freakish in our part of the world. But freakish in a good and very welcome way. The summer norm is for the Louisiana thermostat to have an ugly breakup with the 80s sometime in early June, and then get real friendly with the 90s part of the thermometer, and stay there quite obsessively unti mid-September (with the occasional dalliance into the 100s in July and August).

But here it is, the middle of July, so I take my only opportunity for the whole summer to sit on the porch, drink coffee, and knit.

The amazing weather has done wonders for my mood, so as I work away at my sock, I consider what I might do later in the day, and remember that I've been so dispirited by last week's suffocating weather and bogged-down grant work, that I have fallen over a week behind on my blog.

I have been meaning to post a few things about spinning:

A few weeks, back, you may recall, I went through a bag of natural off-white and natural grey singles and did a little Kool-Aid dyeing.

There was gradient dyeing, with tropical punch Kool-Aid and two four-ounce skeins of Romney singles:

Then, a one-ounce sample skein of Romney singles got tie-dyed with black cherry Kool-Aid. This one will be plied against itself for a speckled effect:

And next, there was a two-ounce skein of natural grey singles -- somebody please hit me with the stupid stick, I forgot to write the breed on the bag label -- that I space-dyed with Kool-Aid Mountain Berry Punch. It will be overdyed with lime green Kool-Aid so that part of the grey remains grey, part becomes green, and part of the green overlaps the blue:

And here's the whole whack of samples hanging out in the bathroom with a fan blowing on them to help with the drying process:

Next time I post, you'll see all of these yarns plied in their final state, and skeined up for future use.

Most of my spinning is fine worsted singles, which I 2-ply for sock yarn or lightweight knits. For worsted weight yarn,I spin fine woolen singles, and the end product is a 3-ply worsted. All of the above yarn is worsted singles (except for the solid blue, which was already plied).

Late this afternoon, we treated ourselves to dinner at the neighborhood sushi bar, and then I took a 2.5 mile walk (about 4K) around the neighborhood just before sunset.

Ordinarily, the 10-meter sprint from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned car is the most outdoor excercise a person can handle in Louisiana in July. Anything more strenuous and you'd have to hire an ambulance to follow you around.

But this evening, I walked all the way to the end of the neighborhood, where the creek empties into a small lake, and back again, to the accompaniment of deliriously happy frogs and toads. Birds bathed in the fresh puddles, and shy green anole lizards licked raindrops from the undersides of leaves.

While I was walking, I also remembered that the pesky Mercury retrograde is over. So I came home, paid a pile of bills, pulled out my hand carders and that Ouessant fleece from Jo, and oiled my wheel. I'm plannning to spin this yarn woolen for loft and softness, but two-ply for light weight so it goes further. Once it's spun up, I'm sure it will tell me what it wants to be:

I'm happy as a frog in a puddle, for a few days, at least.


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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Tuffet for Tessie

Tessie is our eldest cat, nineteen years old that we know of. She was a young adult cat when she came into our lives.

Lately she spends most of her time in the position you see here, as she poses with the materials for her half-done nap cozy -- curled up, usually sound asleep. Prodigious napping is appropriate for a girl her age; in human years, she's somewhere between eighty-five and a hundred and ten, depending on which cat-age calculator you prefer. I prefer the method which distinguishes between ageing rates in indoor and outdoor felines. Tessie is a full-time indoor cat, which puts her well into her nineties:

But she's a bit creaky and achy these days, and she spends most of her time searching for a warm spot to snuggle in. Even though we keep the house at about 76-78 degress F in the summer, she still gets chilly, and spends a lot of time in her plush bed.

So when I checked out the yarn sale at Hobby Lobby last weekend, I had in mind a simple felted square for Tessie to curl up on, for her favorite spot on the futon.

I liked the results and thought you might want to make one for your own feline or small dog. This is a simple garter stitch square knit on the diagonal on large needles. It's a quick weekend project and the perfect size item for summer knitting -- mindless and fast. It would also be a good first felting project.


Note: due to the fact that this cozy is felted, it is not suitable for charity knitting, because pet cozies for animal shelters must be machine washable and dryable. After this cozy has shrunk to the desired size, it must be laid flat to dry after subsequent washings, otherwise it will continue to shrink. Animal shelters don't have time for special laundry handling, so be sure to knit charity pet cozies out of densely-knitted acrylic or superwash wool, which can be laundered mercilessly.


Yarn: two skeins Lion Brand "Lion Wool" for felting (I used dark teal), and two skeins Yarn Bee "Dream Girl" (colorway "Lydia"). This provided a color scheme of blues, greens and a hint of yellow. If you want a different color combination, choose two skeins of Yarn Bee "Dream Girl" that you like, and then choose a "Lion Wool" or other felting wool to coordinate with one of the colors contained in the "Dream Girl." The Lion Wool is the background, unifying color.

IMPORTANT! Fuzz can be a choking hazard! Please note: Ordinarily, I do not use eyelash or other fringey, novelty yarns for pet cozies, because in most cases the eyelashes can be chewed off and swallowed. However, I found that the "Dream Girl" is firmly secured to the binder thread. No small bits came off, even with vigourous tugging on my part. I was looking for silky softness for an elderly cat who is not a chewer. Even though the "fuzz" is firmly secured on the "Dream Girl" yarn, I would not use it for puppies or kittens, or adult animals with vigorous chewing habits (think "Siamese" here). Novelty yarn is NEVER suitable for puppies, kittens, or animal shelter cozies.

Needles: US size eleven

Cast on two st., holding together one strand of Lion Wool and one strand of Dream Girl.

Row 1: knit into front and back of first stitch, knit to end of row. Repeat until you end a row with only about two yards of both yarns remaining.

Next row: Knit first st., SSK, knit across until you are almost out of both strands. Join in both strands of remaining two skeins, and continue knitting.

Subsequent rows: Knit first st., SSK, knit to end of row. Repeat until only 3 st. remain, Knit one, SSK, pass knit st. over. Cut remaining yarn.

Weave in loose ends and snip off excess yarn. Be sure not to weave ends in tightly. My finished results are about 30" square:

This results in a very soft, appealing fabric with a nice drape. Without felting, you could make a larger square, using "Dream Girl" along with a coordinating solid-color worsted acrylic for a colorful, fun and fuzzy couch throw or kid's throw. The amount of yarn used here, with acrylic substituted for felting wool, would also make a nice, WARM lap blanket for someone in a wheelchair. I chose this colorway because most things in our house, including most walls, are ocean colors, but many other colors are available in "Dream Girl."

Toss into washer on heavy-duty setting with a bunch of T-shirts or dead tennis balls. Use hot wash and cold rinse.

Dry in the dryer on "high." If the fabric doesn't feel dense enough for your liking, repeat process.

You now have a soft, warm cozy for your pet. My finished measurements in the above picture are about 20" by 20." The cozy came out square, but the surface I used for a backdrop isn't quite flat.

Your results may vary -- felting is not an exact science, and both the water hardness in your area and your choice of soap may affect the results. It also takes longer to felt an item in a front-loader than in a top-loader, because the agitator in a top-loader helps with the felting process. I have found that, instead of jeans, the best felting aids are a bunch of old T-shirts, a pair of plain old-fashioned canvas sneakers, or half a dozen dead tennis balls. If you don't play tennis, beg some off a friend who does.

For good results with your washer, be sure to use the "Beat Your Clothes to Death" setting. If you choose to wash the felted item with a couple of pair of jeans, be sure the jeans are buttoned and the zippers are fully closed, or the zipper teeth may snag on your yarn, and knitterly catastrophe may ensue. Ask me how I know.

Happy Fourth of July to my American readers. We're going to see the fireworks tonight if the rain holds off. Go see some fireworks tonight if you can, and remember that no matter how grim things seem right now in this country, there is always hope for a better future.



Sunday, July 01, 2007

Happy Canada Day!

Today, I want to wish a happy Canada Day to my Canadian readers, eh?

Thank you, Canada, for Koigu, Neil Young, Patons, maple syrup, real beer, and many other Canadian exports, including Cajuns.

Thank you for setting an example for human dignity.

And thank you, Canada, for Canadians. Great folks, all.



Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: