Saturday, October 31, 2009

Woad Workshop Continues

Here’s my notes for the day after the workshop ended. I had my revived mother vat from the day before, all rested and ready to go.

Maiwa Symposium - Woad Workshop Notes: Day 2

Next morning I made up the main vat using half the amount of soda ash and thiox as we used in class. Then I poured in half of the mother vat and let it rest while I soaked my fibres. This time I had a set of 4 cotton napkins with tape lace edging, a skein of 6/2 silk that had been mordanted in alum for another project but came out somewhat brittle (I’ll use it for art quilting or something), a 50 g skein of Louet Gems fine fingering superwash wool yarn, a skein of 30/2 silk from The Silk Tree, a couple of tiny skeins of 5/2 natural cotton, and about 200 g of crossbred wool roving. I got good colour on everything except the little skeins of natural cotton yarn that I threw in at the last. They only got one dip and it was pretty wimpy so the yarn is blotchy and “interesting”. Everything else was fairly even except for the wool roving which I hadn’t spent time to unravel properly. It’ll make good yarn though.

Final Comments: I was a bit disappointed that Henri and Denise were not very encouraging about growing your own woad. They insisted that their product was of course superior to anything we could do in our own little garden and home. I showed some samples of my extraction woad and Denise immediately countered with her much darker samples! However, it’s not going to convince me to quit. I get blue, darn it! And their woad powder is $19.95 for a mere 30 g, enough for maybe two vats. Or $47.95 for 100 g, perhaps a more economical amount but larger initial outlay and Maiwa was all sold out of the larger containers when I went in with my symposium student’s 20%-off coupon that was burning a hole in my wallet. My home-grown woad costs very little except time and effort.

Another point of discussion is the second day’s addition of indigo to the woad vat. It did indeed increase the intensity while still keeping some of the characteristic softer colour of the woad though it was closer to that of indigo than woad by itself. I noticed that the fibres from the revived mother vat (Day 3) were even more indigo in appearance with less of the woad showing up. My thought is that the woad was pretty much depleted by that point. Even in powder form, woad is not as strong as an equal weight of indigo.

Wools 321Here you can see wool skeins from each day, from right to left: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. I think the woad-to-indigo colour shading difference is pretty obvious. Though the first skein is not bleached superwash and the other two are, which may make a difference. Judging by the final results, wool takes the dye much better than any other fibre. And woad is more muted turquoise than indigo blue.

The suggestion is that for a good stable light- and wash-fast dye, 7 dips are optimal. These need only 5-10 minutes each with at least 15 minutes oxidizing in between. We were in too great of a hurry to give the fibres that many dips. The most I got was maybe 4 or 5 but I kind of lost count after awhile! Too many different items going in and out. Might behoove me to keep track in future though.

The sludge consists of tiny plant bits and other organic and non-organic molecules. It swells and sinks to the bottom and you don’t want to rile it up except in the case of reviving the mother vat. Let it settle and pour carefully so the majority of it stays in the bottom of the mother vat. The big vat gets very little of the sludge on the bottom of it. This helps avoid some of the staining problems that can happen when the fibre rests on the sludge. It’s similar to Maiwa’s indigo recipe and the “stock solution”.

Woad Vat1

Final results of Day 1, bottom of stack to top: cotton napkin, cotton napkin quarter (test piece), wool yarn (overnight in vat), wool yarn.

Total weight: 183 g.


WoadIndigo Vat2

Final results of Day 2, bottom of stack to top: natural linen/rayon (variegated dips), silk habotai, bleached cotton, bleached linen (test piece), sock yarn (superwash wool/nylon).

Total weight: 342 g.

Woad scarves

Final results of Day 2, continued: handwoven cotton scarves, lighter one had 2 dips and darker crinkle one had 4.

Total weight: 181 g

+ the 342 g from previous = 523 g

WoadIndigo Vat3

Final results of Day 3, bottom to top: cotton napkins with tape lace edging, 5/2 mercerised unbleached cotton yarn, 30/2 bombyx silk, 6/2 bomby silk, 2-ply superwash wool, wool roving.

Total weight: 542 g


Everything was eventually rinsed and then washed in warm water with a little Synthrapol: fabrics in the washing machine on gentle and skeins by hand. Some things needed only a little rinsing for the water to come clear and others needed several more changes of water. I dried the cottons in the dryer and hung the others on the line. All the fabrics were pressed with a hot iron (not too hot in the case of the silk) and the silk skeins were “whapped” a few times on the counter to soften them.

And that’s the story of my Woad Workshop adventures!

Happy Halloween!! How do you like my costume?knittinggranny

I’m the Knitting Granny! Mwaahhhh-ha-haaaaa!!!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Woad Workshop Part 2

OK, here’s the second day of the workshop at Maiwa East. Have I mentioned what a cool place this is? Check this out! Wouldn’t you just love to curl up on that bed in the middle with your knitting and a hot cup of chai? This is the Indian furniture sales and storage shop. Upstairs is their dye studio and sewing workshop where employees create some of the wonderful clothing that is sold in the main shop on Granville Island. Of course I only own one single 15-year-old linen shirt but that doesn’t mean I don’t love their stuff. Lately it’s mostly naturally dyed too.

Maiwa Symposium - Woad Workshop Notes: Day 2

Flower of woad Back again for more blue, we had to wait while Henri scraped the woad flower off the top of our vat into a foam coffee cup for each of us. Don’t know why we couldn’t do it ourselves but <insert Gallic shrug here>. He didn’t really explain how to use it after it dries but I know you can make watercolour paint (some instructions start here and here) and fabric paint with soy milk (as in John Marshall’s instructions here). I could also try making pastel crayons (instructions here). Pretty much anything that works with indigo flower (aibana) pigment should work with woad. Or try any pigment recipe.

Drying racks

While we were waiting we started a number of pieces of fabric soaking in buckets. This time we had a quarter-yard each of silk habotai, bleached cotton and natural “linen” (I suspect it’s actually linen/rayon) plus a tiny square of real bleached linen. I fished out my large skein of wool yarn that had sat overnight and oxidized it and dumped out the vat, rinsed it and refilled with hot water, soda ash and thiox for the next stage.

When the Master was done with our mother vat, we poured half into our buckets and waited about 10 minutes. The little square of linen was used as a test piece for this darker vat, though being linen and not easy to dye it didn’t really come out any darker than the previous day’s cottons. With that successful, everyone dove in to dye their fabrics. We only broke for lunch after adding more mother vat to the big vat and to go downstairs to Maiwa East to buy Indian handwoven cotton scarves for more dye fodder. They were kind enough to give us a 20% discount on the price. Some of my classmates were into the bling and got the ones with silver, gold or multicoloured metallic stripes. I was more subdued and happy with a crinkle scarf and a slightly larger shawl with lace squares.

After dyeing all those pieces, I tried a skein of sock yarn in superwash wool and nylon. Denise insisted that the nylon wouldn’t take the dye but it came out after 4 dips very deeply coloured and very even. Meanwhile Henri had been cloistered in the dye room with Michele Wipplinger and they came out to tell us that the “dépôt” could be revived with hot water, 1/2 tsp soda ash and 1 tsp thiox. Let rest 2 hours before using. That message got me excited and I sacrificed my plastic disposable lunch box to fill it with not only my sludge but my neighbour Ellana’s too. So now I could take it home and see what else I could get it to do.


So does everyone look like they’re having fun or what???

That evening at home I “revived” my mother vat sludge in a 2 quart canning jar with hot tap water and soda ash and thiox. I used a wee bit less of the chemicals (maybe 2/3) because my jar wasn’t as large as the one in the class and I was planning to use a smaller bucket for my vat. Then I left it overnight to rest.

Next time, Part 3 – or what I did in my own dye studio the day after the workshop ended.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Woad Workshop Part 1

Whew! Finally finished with all my Maiwa Symposium events for this year. We are indeed lucky to have this resource so close to home. I never fail to take part in some aspect of it. Lectures are every year while workshops are only every other year. Too much work for one small local company and a handful of volunteers to manage! I’m betting Charllotte Kwon and her crew will sleep for a month after the last guest leaves in another week or so. They’ve been going full-bore since early September.

Last night’s lecture was packed and Dr. Elizabeth Barber did not disappoint. I broke down and bought her book “Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years” whereupon she told us that it needs revising. “The First 30,000 Years” would be more appropriate now that more research has come to light. The development and dispersion of spindles, looms and fibres used by prehistoric people, mostly women, is a fascinating topic. Nice to know that Dr. Barber’s research has encouraged others to look at old evidence with new eyes and multiple disciplines. Even though the information is somewhat dated now, I’m still looking forward to rereading the book.

Now for the woad stuff. I decided to divide this into 3 parts because it’s too long and detailed for one post. Hope it helps someone to contemplate making their own woad vat!

Maiwa Symposium - Woad Workshop Notes

Dates: October 22-23, 2009

Where: Maiwa East, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Instructors: Henri and Denise Lambert from Bleu de Lectoure, France.

Henri and Denise Day 1: Thursday we settled into our seats for an enthusiastic introductory lecture by Denise, with Henri filling in where necessary. Lots of translating back and forth between French and English! They were dressed completely in woad every time I saw them. They are very committed to the revival of “pastel” in France and Henri, who was an artist, became a self-taught Woad Master through research and trial and error.

MichelGarcia watching Watching from the sidelines was the botanist Michel Garcia, also from France. I had previously heard his lecture on the inclusive dye garden that he had started. Also in the class we had Michele Wipplinger from Seattle’s Earthues – a celebrity student! Plus a whole bunch of other excited women, including me, itching to get into the blue. Our class assistant, Dani, was lucky because Denise did a lot of the assisting during class time instead, leaving Dani to participate in the dyeing along with the rest of us.

P1040288 I was happy that in this class we were to each make our own dye vat. This simplifies the dipping and timing considerably and we could work at our own pace. So we started filling a little jar with 100ml of very hot water, adding 4 tsps of soda ash, dissolving it thoroughly, and then 3 tbsps woad powder and stirring this to dissolve the powder as well as possible. The usual recipe is only 3 tsps of soda ash but Henri was shocked to find out our water here is below 6 pH (theirs is a neutral 7) and so had to compensate with more soda ash than his recipe states. Optimum pH for the big vat should end up around 9. We left that to sit 20 minutes while we filled a large plastic jar (maybe 3 litres?) with hand-hot water (45-50 C.) leaving a space at the top for the woad paste to stir in. Also in that jar, the mother vat, we added a little MotherVat soda ash (for the pH) and 1 tsp thiourea dioxide, stirred it in and left it to rest until the woad was rested. Finally we gently stirred in the dissolved woad powder, which by this time had turned greenish. The dregs in the cup were washed out by a little more water and stirred in too.

Then it was time to let the mother vat rest (2 hours to overnight is usual), so we all had lunch. There was an event downstairs at Maiwa East with Bappa and his Bai Lou fabrics, plus musicians and many of my guild friends, so after eating most of the class went downstairs. I nearly bought one of Bappa’s scarves in stiff but nearly transparent double-woven silk with “coins” of blue and red-brown opaque silk tucked in the pockets. But I didn’t. I visited with people instead and shared some hugs.

After we went back upstairs, we filled our big bucket vats with hot water – though mine was cooler than it should have been and several people had to wait to heat more water after we depleted the hot water tank. Master (or should that be Maitre?) Henri added our soda ash (1/2 tsp) and thiox (1 tsp) this time for us. He was feeling the need to control things a bit more. After all, there were 18 of us! Too many cooks and all that… We waited awhile more. He demonstrated the next step with one of the vats.  Pouring about 1/2 of the mother vat in, careful to leave the “dépôt” (sludge) behind, we waited about 10 minutes FirstTestand then Henri dipped a sample piece of cotton in and left it 5 minutes before pulling it out. We all watched the Alchemy of Blue happen before our eyes. The lesson was to use only part of the mother vat first and then test to see how deep the colour was and how fast the blue appeared, not too fast and not too slow.

We then dove in ourselves with our own vats. A lot of the time with a woad vat is spent waiting! Patience is definitely a virtue here. It is a different colour than I am used to, more murky and kind of greeny-brown. That makes me think I’ve been using too much thiox in my own vats. Will ponder that.P1040290

I did my test piece of cotton fabric which I thought was very slow to turn from turquoise to blue compared to the others. It did finally but I was envious of Maria’s vat next to me that was very deep and blue, more than anyone else’s. I gave my test piece a couple more dips and airings and then dove in with a larger napkin and later a skein of wool. Denise cautioned that we should dip the cellulose fibres and silk first before dyeing wool and other protein fibres. Apparently the grease that probably still remains in the wool will affect the evenness of the dye on cellulosic fibres. Wool absorbs the colour more deeply though so it doesn’t bother itself. Good to know. I took that advice to heart and dyed a small skein of wool last and then a larger skein which, after a dip or two, I left in the dye vat overnight. Denise suggested we do that to absorb whatever colour is left in the vat and deepen the shade. I didn’t know that wool could take the alkalinity for that length of time but it seems fine.

I was sorry that we dumped out the sludge at the bottom of the mother vat in order to begin a new one for Day 2. I’m sure there was a lot of colour left in it because we only dyed what we were provided which wasn’t that much. I weighed it later and it was under 200 g total. I vowed to bring more for the second vat! But we needed the jar and I didn’t have anything to save it in. So down the drain went nearly $10 worth of woad. Sniff.

We started again with the mother vat as before but this time we used the 3 tbsps of woad and, in addition, 1 tbsp of Pitchi Reddy’s indigo. We stirred it into the jars and were cleaning up to leave when Michel Garcia, who was still lurking about, advised the addition of a second tsp of thiox in each of our mother vats. I gather they thought that one tsp wasn’t enough for that amount of woad/indigo. So it was duly added and stirred and we headed off exhausted but happy.

Part 2 next time!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Little Orphan Damselfly

If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop the story.

Orson Welles

Yep, I’m still here. I knew October would be a ridiculously busy month but it’s been worse than I suspected. I’ll get the worst part off my chest right away: I lost my birth mom last Friday to cancer. Now I’m truly an orphan with nobody between me and the Grim Reaper. Sigh. Mother was only a month shy of her 74th birthday. Much too young to go yet. Last evening we had a family dinner which included 3 of my 4 remaining siblings plus assorted kids and spouses. The photo albums were passed around and memories shared. It was nice. I got to see my little sisters and brother as babies and children. Since I’ve only know them for 18 years it was interesting to see how much they haven’t really changed! Except for one sister, second-youngest, who was killed in a car crash 20 years ago so I never got to meet her. We also missed our second-oldest sister (next after me) who couldn’t come from Haida Gwaii due to the expense and the fact that her husband has been suffering from heart problems. We’ll all get together again in the spring sometime to scatter Mother’s ashes.

Mother 2000 Rene Hewlett – 1935-2009

On to a happier subject, the Maiwa Symposium has been really exciting. Since I last posted, I’ve been to a fabulous fashion show featuring clothing from Maiwa, Bleu de Lectoure, the Qiviuk Boutique and Bai Lou. The models were dancers choreographed by Little Woo and the music was by Pepe Danza. T-Man was miffed that I never bought him a ticket!

Then the Woad Workshop with Henri and Denise Lambert last Thursday and Friday went really well. We had two days of turning everything in sight blue! I’ll write it up better with photos as soon as I can. (I’m still working on my Guild’s Membership Booklet which has to go to the printers soon.) I also went on Monday to the slide lecture with Denise Lambert, the fluently bilingual wife of the more reticent Woad Master.

Henri and Denise

Her passion for the blue of France is infectious and Henri is happy to let her spread the “word of woad” (or “pastel” as they call it) for him. I succumbed (of course) to the book “Le Pastel en Pays d’Oc” by Sandrine Banessey which luckily includes English text as well as French. As well as the history of woad production and use in France, the Lamberts and their company Bleu de Lectoure are featured. There’s even a photo of the famous pastel blue Jaguar, which Denise admits is her husband’s baby – even though it spends more time in the service garage than on the street. Yes, it is coloured with woad auto paint specially formulated in Germany for them. Even Henri’s glasses frames are organic plastics tinted with woad! These people really walk the walk.

More anon. Meanwhile I have my last lecture tonight with Elizabeth Barber, speaking on the subject of her book “Women’s Work: the First 20,000 Years”. Should be eye-opening and thought-provoking. I’ve read the book but it was a while ago now.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Well That Went Well - Not

Yesterday I signed off saying that I needed to do a mountain of dishes. That ended up being a whole lot more difficult than it should have been. Before I started them, I went downstairs with a load of recycling and pop cans etc. and heard a funny noise. Dum-de-dum-dum. No, not dire music. It was water spewing all over the basement floor and the dribbling sound of it flowing down the drain in the corner. Yikes! I tried to turn off the water to the hot water tank but it sprayed all over me and wouldn’t go off. So then I tried to turn off the water main to the house. It was so tight I couldn’t budge it and there was no tool that I could find that would work. Not even the biggest wrench. What to do? Call T-Man on his cell phone for “HELP!” He came in 17 minutes, new record time. Of course he just touched the tap and it turned off. It did take him 2 hands to turn off the main though. Sigh. I’m such a wimp.

T then managed to fix the broken tap (washer blown, replaced with packing) but water was still leaking out on the floor so we figured our 8-year-old hot water tank was a goner. Still had 10 years to go on the warrantee so we were able to get a small rebate on a new one. It was a lot of work to clean up the water but it didn’t actually ruin anything. That drain in the floor is very useful. And now my floor is clean! Plus I did the dishes yesterday before draining the old tank. It was replaced today and we’re back in business – $850 poorer. I’m still hoping to dry out the basement throw rugs before the expected rain tomorrow. I may have to bring them inside later today to finish the job.

Trivia: We’ve been in this house long enough now (nearly 31 years) to have replaced the hot water tank 4 times! Don’t make ’em to last, do they?

Now for some book reviews. It’s been awhile and I’ve meant to tell you about some of the new books that are trying to elbow their way onto my crowded bookshelves. The subject today is “socks”. I thought I already talked about some of these, but since I can’t find the post we’ll carry on. Compare and contrast.

First up:  face-off! Cookie A’s Sock Innovation VS Wendy D. Johnson’s Socks from the Toe Up. Both of these designers make socks with a similar look using knit/purl patterns, lace and cables and solid or semi-solid yarns. The difference is that Cookie works top down and Wendy works toe up. They both make lovely functional socks, using a tight gauge and mostly my favourite flap and gusset (or in Wendy’s case gusset and flap) heel. I’m not a fan of toe-up socks but regardless I’ve successfully knit two of Wendy’s patterns top down, changing to my own methods as necessary. Turned out just fine! There’s also a lot of information on sock designing construction, re-sizing, etc. in both of these and it doesn’t overlap much. Both books have a lot to recommend them particularly for those sock knitters past their first few pairs and wanting more challenges but nothing too innovative. Save dear Cat Bordhi for later.

If you like your yarns more colourful and your socks more challenging, try Carol J. Sulcoski’s Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn. This book isn’t the work of just one designer so you get a lot of different styles and construction methods. Some of them might not be for the real beginner sock knitter and there are no basic how-to-knit-socks chapters. Lots of interesting socks though and an in-depth discussion of ways to get the most out of handpainted yarns, whether bright or muted.

Another book with a number of different types of socks by various designers is Linda Kopp’s The Joy of Sox. Everything from heavy leg warmers to lacy knee socks and utilizing colour-stranding to delicate fishnet and beads, there is sure to be something in this book to get your fingers itching to knit. The first part of the book has some beginner information and there are tidbits and amusing asides (such as “18% of sock knitters admit to looking at online socks more than three times a day.”) plus a story from Crazy Aunt Purl about her “First Time”. Cute! And keeps you reading. The best part of this book is the hard cover over internal spiral binding that opens flat and stays that way so you don’t lose your page.

One last book is Dorothy T. Ratigan’s Knitting the Perfect Pair. Subtitled “Secrets to Great Socks”, I was a little disappointed with this book. There are a number of intriguing socks in here including tabi (separate big toe), thrummed house socks and ones with an interesting braided edging but most of the “secrets” are kind of lame: ribbing under a fold-over cuff, an afterthought heel, avoiding the jog in stripes. Yawn. The patterns feature only one size circumference with any adjustments you can make to the lengths noted. My biggest debate with many of the socks in this book is with the gauge. Some I would consider much too loosely knit to make long-wearing socks. Regular sock/fingering weight yarn knit at 28 sts = 4” is much looser than my usual 36-38 sts = 4”. And how does she get 38 sts = 4” using relatively large 3.25 mm needles on the cover socks? I can get that only with 2 mm needles. The pattern states that gauge is over st st, not in pattern too. Yeah, I know. Use whatever size needles gets the proper gauge for you! However I think some trial and error and adjusting would be necessary for the best results. At least that’s my opinion. Dorothy is an older and very experienced knitter but it seems that her patterns aren’t quite what modern sock knitters are used to. Not so much the style but the instructions perhaps? Something feels not quite right anyway. I’m open to other points of view if you’ve got one.

All of these books have been published this year attesting to the continuing popularity of sock knitting. So many socks; so little knitting time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Scattered: Like The Falling Leaves

That’s my thoughts these days. My brain is all over the place. I’ve written so many posts in my head but none of them came out my fingers. Sorry about that, my faithful readers. Please bear with me.

I’ll just grab a Thought Leaf as it drops then, shall I? First off, I finally was able to give the new parents, our nephew and his wife, the gift I made for their new baby who is now 2 months old. Yes, it’s been sitting around waiting for awhile. At least he hasn’t started school yet!

Baby Raglan Cardi

BabySweaterFor: my great-nephew

Begun: May 13, 2009

Completed: May 28, 2009

Yarn: Sirdar Snuggly DK, nylon/acrylic baby yarn, colour 0265 (natural with rust and brown tweedy bits), dyelot 36763, 193 yds = 50 g., 2.25 balls (including hat).

Needles: Clover bamboo 24” circs in 3.25mm (rib) and 3.75mm (body), Clover bamboo 7” dpns in 3.25mm (rib) and 3.75mm (sleeves and hat).

Pattern: Sweater – Top Down Seamless Raglan Baby Sweater (garter ridge version) by Carole Barenys, six-month size.

Mods – my sleeves were a bit shorter (7 ridges past armhole). Also had to work 9 garter ridges after last buttonhole (instead of 8) before beginning bottom rib for it all to come out right.

Hat – On smaller dpns CO 80sts. 2/2 rib for 8 rounds, switch to larger dpns and garter rib pattern. Work until 7 garter ridges completed. Switch to st st and begin dec rounds: [k 6, k2tog], k 1 rnd plain, [k5, k2tog], k1 rnd plain etc. until 10 sts rem. K2tog around (5 sts), then work i-cord on those 5 sts for 1”. Finish off.

Comments: There were a few glitches in following the pattern. Could just be my interpretation of her instructions though rather than a problem with the pattern itself. I didn’t especially like knitting with the totally synthetic yarn. It felt squeaky on the needles. Very soft however and hopefully will hold up to wash and wear. Turned out really cute anyway and perhaps big enough to fit all this coming fall and winter. He’s a big guy - like his daddy!

Next Leaf:  I went to my first of this year’s Maiwa Symposium lectures featuring Michel Garcia of France’s Jardin Conservatoire de Plantes Tinctoriales. He gave a delightful talk on the garden begun in 2002 on the grounds of an ancient castle in Lauris, Provence. Interspersed with humourous asides, he told how they had a very short time to produce a garden featuring the world’s dye plants and eventually including information and experiences for visitors, a dye supply shop and laboratory, informational/educational booklets and a newsletter. It must have taken a phenomenal amount of work and included a lot of volunteer hours. I found it very exciting to hear about some of the information shared and innovations discovered in using natural/botanical dye plants and the challenges of growing them with so many diverse needs in their dry sandy calcareous soil with hot summers and cold winters. Unfortunately, Michel ended his lecture with the statement that the garden has now been discontinued and their support and funding has dried up along with the plants. He was very sad that many plants didn’t survive this summer’s neglect after all the staff (including himself) were dismissed and no seeds were collected. However he seems to hold out hope still that the government bureaucracy will eventually find a way to re-establish the garden. It is – or was – unique in the world. I wish him success.

Next in my Maiwa experiences this year will be Thursday and Friday’s workshop on using woad with Henri Lambert of Bleu de Lectoure also from France. I’m looking forward to learning more about this plant which fascinates me. I hope I can figure out how to get more out of my own plants, which may or may not have accessible colour left in them right now. I’ll be starting some new plants again next year anyway. I have seeds and I know how to use them! Wish I knew where to get some other dye plant seeds though. I’d love to try growing weld and maybe some other things as space might allow. I could always start digging up the public boulevard right beside our property!

Another Leaf:  And speaking of my garden, we’ve been getting buckets of chestnuts this year. The squirrels won’t eat them but the neighbours and passersby have helped themselves and we still have more than we can eat. I try to give the excess away but get funny looks, even when I tell the potential recipient our foolproof way to process the nuts: cut an X on the shell (a serrated knife works best), put them separated and X-side-up on a cookie sheet in a 425 F. oven for 20 minutes, cool enough to handle and peel while they’re still warm. With a little salt they’re delicious right away or use them in recipes like chicken (or turkey) salad, as an addition to mashed potatoes (can be used on their own but very rich), or whatever way you can think of. Chestnuts are less fatty and more starchy than many other nuts. Now if only we can get the Hunter-Gatherers to help rake up the devilishly prickly husks off the lane after they’re done gathering our nuts. Do they think the mess just magically disappears by itself? Kind of like how the blackberries, which they also gather from our back fence, get magically pruned, right?

Off to wash some of the Rocky Mountains worth of dirty dishes after having our kids, their kids, the nephew, niece-in-law and their new baby over yesterday to help finish up the Thanksgiving leftovers. Have rubber gloves, will scrub. Oh, plus I have to mention how cute the grandbeasties were giving their little second-cousin gentle kisses goodbye. Awwww…. Stargazer asked me how come the baby couldn’t walk yet. Soon, hon’! All too soon. Just like you grew to be almost 3 in the blink of an eye.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!

P1020848It’s cold this morning even though the sun is out. Definitely fall for sure.  We apparently broke a few records and there’s still a bit of frost on the garage roofs around us. Seems that my remaining lettuce is still ok though. It’s mature enough to withstand a bit of a chill. The other greens are somewhat hardier so I’m not worried for them but I’d like to harvest the lettuce before it turns into a pile of brown goo.

Luckily I have the heavy handwoven woolen blankies on the bed so we didn’t freeze ourselves but I haven’t put on the flannelette sheets. Which reminds me – I haven’t mentioned My Adventures in Laundry yet. It’s a long story. When I last posted I was going to hunt for bedsheets in the mall and yes, I found some. It was a difficult search but I managed to find separates in regular sheets but apparently flannelettes are hard to find in anything other than sets. Our odd bed situation really requires a double fitted sheet, a queen-sized flat and 6 pillowcases (preferably at least 4 of them king-sized). Not exactly a standard set, huh? I’ve tried a queen set with “suspenders” to hold the fitted sheet on properly but there’s always uncomfortable wrinkles. I’ve tried a standard double set but the top sheet is really too small and comes untucked. And either option still only has 2 regular pillowcases so I still have to buy 4 more king-sized ones. Yes, we have a bunch of pillows on our bed. We sleep on 2 each plus an extra each for comfort when reading or watching TV – or in my case (as I’m doing right now) using my little netbook computer. Why not? And I like king-sized cases for the queen-sized pillows because otherwise they escape out the ends of the regular ones! I tuck the long ends in to make a neat package.

Yup. Our bed situation is unusual. But for some reason single sheets are not only limited in choice but more expensive than sets. So I got what I could since I had been putting this whole thing off until we were pretty desperate. Then I made my first Laundry Mistake. I put all the new sheets and pillowcases in the same load to wash them before using them for the first time. And ended up with dark green lint all over everything from the flannelettes! It’s obviously been too long since I last purchased these or I would have remembered that they fuzz badly for the first few washings. After two rounds through the dryer (cleaning out the lint trap several times) and a tedious session with the lint brush, the regular sheets are nearly free of fuzzballs. At least they are dark brown so the dark green doesn’t show too badly.

The Second Problem I encountered wasn’t my fault. One of my purchases was a set of lighter green king-sized pillowcases and one of the seams popped in the first wash! Instead of taking them back and complaining to the store and replacing with another set I just spent a minute with the serger and fixed it. Done. Dare it to come loose again.

The Third Problem however was definitely my fault though it didn’t have anything to do with the new sheets. The dark load seemed to mysteriously come out with grease stains all over several garments in places where I was sure they had no business being. I mean, I’m kind of sloppy and never wear an apron but I’m not that bad! When I came across a tiny little lid in the bottom of the dryer I realized that I had perhaps left a tube of lip balm in a pocket. Argh! I never did find the rest of the tube. Only the lid. Weird. Did the rest of it dissolve? Happily not all the clothes were affected. I tried washing the stained things several more times in good old Synthrapol but this time it didn’t help. I’m several kinds of sads about my favourite cotton ribbed turtleneck. And a pair of sweatpants that still had some life in them. Maybe if I just wear them around the house where nobody will see? Sigh.

Poor T-Man has to work today, holiday or no. Our Thanksgiving Dinner yesterday went really well except for the fact that we only had 17 people instead of the quadrillions we were expecting. Family. Gotta love ‘em! Nevermind. It was fun. I just have a few more dishes to do today and we’re all tidied up. And there’s tons of leftovers so I’m well ahead in my meal planning for the rest of the week.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Feeling a little more positive today. Must have been the several hours I spent spinning yesterday. I haven’t done much spinning in the last year or so and I think I miss it’s soothing effects. Must try to do more. Definitely more often anyhow.

And no, I’m not stressing about the impending Thanksgiving dinner. We have the turkey, a medium-sized free-range dude that cost an arm and a leg! I’m hoping it tastes better than the cheap frozen ones we usually buy. It had better be better, to justify its high price. We also have a ham (in case the turkey isn’t big enough), many pounds of yellow spuds, baby carrots, frozen peas, salad fixings, shrimp rings, chips, dips and yummy Cob’s buns. We have paper plates because a) I don’t have a dishwasher and b) I don’t actually own enough plates for the Family Horde. Milady Daughter is bringing the soft drinks and The White Lady promised a homemade pumpkin pie or, hopefully, two. Still probably need something else dessert-ish since we’re over 20 people if everyone makes it on Sunday. Easy-peasy. Not nearly the 30+ we had one memorable Easter!

However I still have loads of housework to do: laundry, mop the walnut crud off the kitchen floor (we actually got some this year – yay!), clean up the basement etc. I’m going with T-Man after work to his dentist appointment so I can drop into my audiologist (just upstairs) and get some more batteries for my “ears”. Then I need to get some of my favourite teas at Murchie’s in the mall. I may go hunting for some bed sheets too while I’m on the loose with a credit card. I fixed several shredding towels yesterday on a “make-do and mend” kick but we do need new sheets sometime soon before they self-destruct. These ones are so thin you can nearly see through them. Large central rips are impossible to mend without a lumpy seam that imprints unflatteringly on one’s behind! I really don’t much like shopping (unless it’s in a crafty supply or book store) but sometimes I’ve got no choice. However, I’d rather be here again:

CapitolReef I think I left my heart in Fruita.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Would You Like Some Cheese With That Whine?

What is it with people? Every article in my local papers includes much whining about something out of their control. Usually something somebody else is either doing or not doing that annoys the whiner. Spitting on the sidewalk, not giving up a seat in the bus, not looking one in the eye, noisy yard equipment or motorcycles or garbage trucks. Please, people! Don’t sweat the small stuff! It’s shortening your life. And yes, I am whining about the whining. Hypocritical, huh?

Extremely public examples: currently there’s a super-bad gang leader in jail here awaiting a murder trial who is complaining that he’s being mistreated because his jail cell is dirty, the authorities mess with his mail and he’s lonely in solitary. Poor baby. And there’s an Olympic luger from Alberta who’s bitching about the reception she’s been getting in Whistler by those who think the Olympics coming to their slopes is a big PITA rather than a blessing. Awwww! The world isn’t perfect. Get over it.

Yes, I’m having a tough week. Why do you ask? It’s not because I’ve invited a huge (huge!) bunch of family to Sunday’s Thanksgiving dinner. That I’m totally looking forward to. It’s the ones who can’t come that are making me crazy. Family: the people who know where your buttons are and how to push them.

Okey-doke. Enough of that. Let’s have another FO, shall we? This one I made in record time while we were driving around the desert.

NanaBel Shawl

clip_image002Begun: September 17, 2009

Completed: September 22, 2009

Yarn: West Coast Colour: Cathedral Grove, 50% merino/50% tencel sock yarn, dyed grays with a hint of pink, 412 yards per skein. No idea who this indy-dyer is but it’s lovely yarn, purchased at Knitopia (which is now back in White Rock from Langley, for whatever reason).

Needles: Addi Lace circular, 4mm.

Pattern: Ishbel by Ysolda Teague. Thousands of people have knit this one! It’s a hit.

Mods: Began the smaller size but worked charts A & B a second time as for the larger one. Did an extra 2 rows of chart D and could have done 2 more judging by the amount of yarn left over. But then I wouldn’t have finished before we got home!

clip_image003<- unblocked

Comments: This is the second version of Ishbel I’ve knit, this time for my mom-in-law and completed during our Utah vacation. Just finished the last stitch before pulling up beside our house!

Blocked Sept 28 using my blocking mats and wires which made it really easy. The fabric has wonderful drape and lace definition. Hope she likes it! I haven’t given it to her yet. Waiting for the right moment.

I currently have a number of projects on the needles and hooks. So much it’s kind of getting stupid! I have to buckle down and finish a few things.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Fall Silence

Yes, I’ve been rather quiet here lately. My adopted mom always said if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. That of course was hard for me, the motor mouth (or motor fingers since I learned to type). However, there has been some serious family stress that I would love to babble about but really can’t. And shouldn’t. Sorry about that. Suffice it to say that it’s not involving me and T or our kids or grands so not to worry. We’ll leave it there.

And everything I’ve been working on lately is secret too! Maybe I should distract you with some of the stuff I finished while I was away on vacay. Here’s the first project I completed and now that it’s been given to its recipient I can talk about it:

Dead Simple Lace Socks

SSSocks For: The White Lady (my daughter-in-law)

Begun: August 13, 2009

Completed: September 5, 2009

Yarn: Knit Picks Bare, superwash merino/nylon fingering weight, 462 yds per skein, dyed by me in several shades of red acid dyes.

Needles: Takumi bamboo dpns, 2mm.

Pattern: Dead Simple Lace Socks by Wendy D. Johnson from “Socks from the Toe Up”.

Mods: Worked from the top down instead of toe up. Used the larger size. Began with Nancy Bush’s Estonian cast-on (k & p versions of the long-tail cast-on followed by a round of purl stitches). This makes a pretty edge.

Comments: I frogged the original socks that I started in this yarn and used this simpler pattern instead. It went much better! I was a little disappointed that the larger size of the pattern was a bit asymmetrical but it was easier to use it as is than to re-design. It has an uneven number of plain stitches between the lace columns, more on one side than than the other. Doesn’t really show but bugs my symmetrical mind! She loves them though. I finished before her birthday but of course we were 1000+ miles away at the time so she didn’t get them until a few days ago. You can’t really see due to the crappy photo but they are quite attractive when on the foot.

And while I’m on the subject of socks, here’s the knee socks I made while we were driving from one set of rocks to another:

Ruby Kneehighs

clip_image002For: Me

Begun: September 5, 2009 (not quite sure)

Completed: September 17, 2009

Yarn: Newton’s Yarn Country Happy Feet, merino superwash 3-ply sock yarn, #8? (reds and navy blues), used about 125g/480yds.

Needles: Takumi bamboo dpns, 2mm.

Pattern: Ann’s Knee High Socks by Ann Ackerman.

Mods: Instead of sport or worsted weight yarn as the pattern states, I used regular sock yarn so adjusted pattern for smaller gauge. Began on 88 sts, 2/2 rib 4”, knit even 3”, placed markers 12 sts either side of centre back and decreased every 4 rows between them (creating a V-shaped gusset), last dec was a centred-double-dec, 64 sts rem, knit even 5” to beginning of heel flap, completed sock as usual for my feet.

Comments: These were superb travel knitting. Lots of plain stockinette stitch. My first pair of knee socks ever! But not the last for sure. They fit great and actually stay up. I would have to make them somewhat wider and longer though if they were for someone else with larger than my own skinny calves and small feet.

Poor White Lady has been trying to learn how to knit socks but she’s been having difficulties. I hope she keeps trying but it’s hard with the little distractions (aka the kids). We need to have a quiet session to remember and reinforce some of her knit skills. Not an easy task!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Two Days Disappeared

That’s how long it took me to complete a small block for a comfort blanket. Two days of my life that just went poof! Of course, I had a few problems. First I couldn’t decide which block to make so I went on Ravelry and checked out 20-some pages of pattern options. One caught my eye but there was no way that it was going to work with my sport-weight yarn, which was a spindle-spun two-ply mish-mash of purples and oranges from Aurelia Wool called “Retro Topaz”. Guess I can’t complain about this colour blend since it was all my idea! Andrea liked it and had it made up in New Zealand to add to her line after the original Topaz was discontinued. It does have the unfortunate aspect of hiding complex knitting in its busy-ness though.

But back to the pattern for a square. An 8” square. Do you realise how hard it is to make something exactly to size? Not so hard when you make a gauge swatch, cast on the correct number of stitches and then knit until the piece is the right height, bind off and there you go, but that wasn’t the direction I was going in. For whatever reason I wanted to work from the centre out. When Ravelry didn’t pan out, I got out my copy of the late Mary Walker Phillips’ “Knitting Counterpanes” (apparently now rare and expensive) and there it was: “Lily”, an eight-section pinwheel design. I liked that the sections were alternating plain and corrugated divided by yo, ssk, yo lines and then made into a slightly wonky square by adding points to the corrugated sections. I thought I could just begin the shape on appropriate sized dpns and then stop when I got to 8” in diameter and then add the points. Was I wrong!

First I stopped where I thought was the right place but then after knitting one point it looked way too small (but actually wasn’t). So I frogged the corner, spliced my yarn back together and knit on. When I finished the whole pattern as written I measured and it was…wait for it… too big. Much too big measuring 10” instead of 8”. But here’s where I made a really big boo-boo. Did I frog back partway again? Nope. I looked at those gazillion (ok, 9) ends sticking out and figured it was too much work to frog. I could just full it to size. What was I thinking? After getting out the scrub board and working it in hot soapy water the piece became incredibly soft and cushy felt. But it was also only about 1” smaller. I was losing the lovely textured pattern in the fuzz and of course now I couldn’t frog it because it was felted irrevocably! Dumb. Stupid. Doh. This piece is going to get a border crocheted on and become a hot mat. When I stop being mad at it. Or myself.

So I started all over again. One more time with feeling! And this time got up to the same place where I stopped the first time and right away added all the corners to complete the square. It was too small like I had thought it would be but only a little. Here’s where I got smart (finally!) and picked up the stitches all around and knit a corrugated border (2 rounds knit, 2 rounds purl, repeat these rounds and cast off in knit) increasing in the corners every other round with a k1, yo, k1 (or purl instead of knit as the round dictated). I blocked it and NOW it’s the exact right size. And looks a lot better with a border on it too. It will be easier to stitch to other squares with straight edges. I know you want to see. Shhhh…it’s a secret! I’ll show you later.

KnittingCounterpanes Now I would like to comment on Mary Walker Phillips and the book from which this pattern came. She had been asked for the pattern for an antique knitted counterpane that had appeared in a photo in an earlier book she had written. When she found that there were no directions for it, she began a study of extant pieces and old pattern books that culminated nearly 20 years later in this book, now sadly out of print. Subtitled “Traditional Coverlet Patterns for Contemporary Knitters”, it’s printed completely in black and white. That’s not a drawback at all however since the original counterpanes were almost invariably white as were all the samples that Mary knit. The modern eye sees plenty of scope for adding colour if desired!

My only negatives about this book are that there are very few charts, only for knit/purl patterning, and the fact that Mary uses her own set of abbreviations for the row by row instructions. I found reading “RLD” instead of skp or ssk and “LRD” instead of k2tog confusing. So I got out my trusty Knit Visualizer program and charted it up. It was so much easier to follow. The second time I knit it, I didn’t even need the chart after the first few rounds.

Yes, I know I have several other FOs that I haven’t shown yet. Soon. Promise. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with another random photo from our holiday, this one from the Gifford House museum and store in Fruita, Capitol Reef National Park. Pardon the funky “artistic” angle:TwinedRug One of the volunteers demonstrates twined rag rugs and they sell Bobbie Irwin’s book on the subject. This is her frame with an almost finished rug on it. Unfortunately she wasn’t there the day we were. The little museum/shop is also famous for the yummy pies made from the bounty in Fruita’s orchards. We got an apple one and it was indeed delish!