Monday, May 31, 2010

Double Trouble

If you’ll remember, I was all fired up about sewing myself some new clothes. Here’s the dress pattern puzzle I created so far:


Doesn’t look much like anything wearable yet, does it? I now am in desperate need of a dress form because this (and every other pattern) needs some serious fitting work. It’s much easier to create something that not only fits but flatters if you have a form to put it on. Commercial dress forms are both expensive and not shaped at all like me, so I had decided ages ago to make one myself.

I think it was nearly a year ago that we bought some paper tape from the butcher on Granville Island to make said dress form. I kept putting it off hoping that I’d lose a little weight first. Hah-hah-hah!!! Right. Not so much. Then I waited for the right time to capture T-Man’s assistance. Being the model, I couldn’t help much myself so I had to depend on an Able Assistant. So on Saturday it was raining and we didn’t have anything immediate planned so I decided it was a good day to get started. I dressed in underwear and a plastic garbage bag, put on my soft plastic clogs, got out the tape, scissors, warm water, sponge and towel and let T tie me up! Little did I know. The directions I had saved (which I can’t point you to since the original webpage seems to have vanished) that we decided to follow – sort of – said it took about an hour. HAH! Five stinkin’ hours on my feet unable to sit or move much at all! Luckily I’m pretty fit, but at the end I was impatiently awaiting my freedom and when I could move again, collapsed in hysterical laughter. I was cold and my hip was a bit sore so I was very glad to recline in bed under the covers for the next several hours afterward. We ordered pizza for dinner since neither of us had any energy left by that point.

I have to admit that some of the time standing around we were not actively taping but cutting more paper tape strips, eating a snack, having a sip of tea etc. All very necessary, believe me. And we still never got more than 3 or 4 rather wonky layers done. Meet my intimate friend, Debbie Double:


She definitely needs some more work before she’s done. Since you add the layers on top of yourself, the measurements are somewhat larger than they should be. Plus, my Able Assistant didn’t realise that the neck and underarms should be at least symmetrical. He did manage to make a very acceptable stand out of an old handrail before he left on a business trip today though. Now I get to fiddle and fuss by myself until I’m happy with ol’ Deb. It takes time because I can’t get things too wet or it starts to collapse, so parts need to dry overnight before going on. She’s very lightweight but quite sturdy, if a bit rough.

The reason we went with paper tape, even though it needs to be moistened so it’s slower to work with, was that we thought the results would be much better than the more common duct tape method. Duct tape slumps out of shape and is much more flexible so needs careful stuffing. Hot weather softens it too. I’ve also seen plastic packing tape used but it suffers from some of the same problems and I would be concerned that the glue would dry out eventually. Unfortunately with our method, T wasn’t able to be as smooth in application towards the end as he could have been. We were both getting too tired. And I wriggled too much! Plus the form collapsed a bit when we took it off and we didn’t have the energy to prop it well before it dried. We only hung it from a hanger with some fiberfill padding. But I think it’s better than the plain wire hanger I’ve been using as a dress stand for the last 45 years anyhow! It’ll be fine.

I have to admit it’s kind of odd to have your aging anatomy where it’s a separate entity from you. You don’t really look at yourself from all sides. T says it looks pretty much like I actually do though. Sigh. He oughta know! Guess I had better follow his example and learn to love her just the way she is.

Meanwhile I’ve been ordering more patterns. Since there aren’t any fabric stores that I can get to without taking transit or depending on T to chauffeur, it’s nearly as easy to order online. Plus there was a sale this weekend on Butterick, McCall’s and Vogue patterns for US$3.99 each so I took advantage. Postage is only a wee bit more than bus fare and they mail from Canada. Plus it won’t happen that I choose a pattern I really like and then find that they don’t have one available in-store in my size which happens often. Shopping at home has it’s conveniences. A little too convenient sometimes. The downside is I have to wait for delivery.

Off to go play with Debbie some more. The waist is still somewhat wider than I am. And she needs her neck and shoulders fixed and the back seam (where I escaped) reinforced. Then she needs to go on her stand and get stuffed and covered. Lots of work still to go.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Our Gallery Show

InviteOn Tuesday evening, T-Man and I headed back over the Ironworker’s Memorial Bridge again to Deep Cove for the opening of my guild’s 75th Anniversary show. Here’s the invitation and that photograph of Kirsten’s lovely shawl is the perfect introduction to the items on display. (I think it might have been cropped from one of the photos I took for her.) The opening was a really fun party with lots of dear old friends, cake, strawberries, yummy nibblies, much chatter and hugs. Some of these folks I’ve known for 25 years! But that’s only 1/3 of the guild’s long existence.

I didn’t get the best pictures of the show since I didn’t take time to set up the shots properly. Everyone was mingling around so I just snapped quickly. But here’s some of the displays anyhow:


Baskets. I love the pack basket on the wall. I don’t really make baskets so I’m always in awe of what they come up with.


Colour. The gorgeous one peeking out on the far left is by Dawn and dyed with a rusted muffler! (Get it?)


Structure. I didn’t record who wove these but love the one on the right intensely.


Texture. I so love the neutral colours and exciting topography of these ones. I’m almost wishing now that I had taken Anne Field’s collapse weave class as well as the spinning one. I need to get back to weaving and experiment. Yeah, I know I’ve said that before.


And of course the lace corner! That’s my bison shawl in the middle of the only handspun and knitted pieces and mine was also the only triangle in the entire show. (Dare to be different!) The top one is by Ruth and the one on the right by Masami.

There were lots more including a truly impressive large jacquard woven image by Kaija, several drawloom-woven pieces by siblings Janice and Ruth, two little tapestries by Myrna (I loved the Jazz Cat) and a whole plethora of scarves in a rainbow of colours, fibres and structures. I think it was said that 35 guild members contributed pieces. Pretty impressive, hey?

On another note entirely, yesterday I spent the morning buying a couple of patterns from BurdaStyle and then printing out and assembling the one for Celestina. I have no idea what fabric I’m going to use but I think I’ll make it with cap sleeves for a summer dress kind of like this one. And I might change the neckline a bit too. It’s also cute sleeveless so there’s lots of variations possible. It seems the sizing is much more accurate with the patterns from this source (at least the ones actually produced by their team), but I’ll find out for sure when I trace off what I hope is my size from the “jigsaw puzzle” and tissue fit.

Note BurdaStyle has free patterns on offer as well as low-cost copyright-free ones from a number of sources, including Burda Fashion (aka Burda Style magazine). If you already have the magazine in question though, there’s no point in buying the pattern again because you still have a lot of work to do to get to the point where you can cut out a garment! The styles have a youthful Euro vibe yet many include larger size versions so they aren’t just for skinny-minnies. There’s even one I like that I would have to size down to fit me. I also like that the website saves the patterns that you’ve downloaded, both the free ones and the paid ones, so you can download anything again if you need to. There are tonnes of tutorials and the newsletter is also worth subscribing to if you are interested in garment sewing.

If you prefer, most patterns have an optional PDF that you can use to print at a copy shop on 3-foot wide paper which saves the “jigsaw puzzle” step. Which really wasn’t that difficult except for the fact that my printer doesn’t print to the edges of the paper so I have little gaps in the lines where they should match. Not a big problem though as long as I was careful to line things up properly. Now I’m wishing desperately for the dressmaker’s stand that I’ve been threatening to make for ages. Soon! Maybe this weekend if the weather is as bad as the forecast suggests. It’s too hard to fit things on your own body.

In other news, I also plan to cast on a new knitting project today. I have decided that my Rhubarb yarn is going to become a Multnomah. 2100+ knitters can’t be wrong. Off to wind a ball and hunt down 3.25mm Addi Lace circs…

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fit To Print

Today I have a couple of book reviews for you: one knitting and one sewing. Both are rather technical in nature but give you some really useful tools for your DIY projects. Kind of like a school textbook but more fun since it’s not a required subject and you won’t get tested or marked on it.

PadenBook The first one is Knitwear Design Workshop: A Comprehensive Guide to Handknits by Shirley Paden. Interweave Press LLC, 2009. 340+ pages, hardcover over spiral binding.

This is a massive book with lots of charts and math (with proofs!) and just tonnes of garment design information. Shirley is one of those truly elegant people who always look chic and perfect and this esthetic carries on throughout her work, her website and her book. And she wants you to share it too. Don’t be intimidated though; Shirley holds your hand and walks you through everything very carefully, step by step. I own other sweater design books and none of them covers the subject anywhere near as thoroughly. It’s a college-level course at least! If you have any desire to create your own knitted garments this is the book to have and to use. And to study carefully.

As a complement to the Knitware design program that I’ve talked about before, this book is wonderful. The program does the basic math for you but the book covers a lot more alternatives in much greater depth. You could generate a basic pattern to your measurements with the software and then tweak the shaping or add more elaborate details using the information in the book. At the very least you will understand a whole lot more about what you are doing with the program.

That said, I’m not inspired to knit any of Shirley’s designs. They are really lovely but just not my taste, being far too elegant for my lifestyle. She is the queen of huge collars, lace dresses and sewing pieces together. This is not the place to learn top-down construction or how to knit a garment in one piece. However, crocheters should not overlook the fact that the sizing, shaping and fitting and general design information can apply to them just as well as to knitters.

For extra information on Shirley Paden (her last name is pronounced with a long ‘a’), her work and her book, don’t forget to check out these links: go here for Interweave’s info (including a video where Shirley introduces herself) and here for her own appropriately lovely website (including extra downloadable worksheets, under Book).

SewBook Next, the sewing book I want to discuss is How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns by Lee Hollahan. Quarto Inc., 2010. 144 pages, softcover.

Subtitled “from store-bought patterns to drafting your own: a complete guide to fashion sewing with confidence”, I would say this book is also not really for the absolute beginner but with some experience you could improve your fitting and change garment details easily. More advanced sewers will get a better handle on starting to design their own garments from scratch.

Apparently originally from the US, Ms. Hollahan is a lecturer in fashion and textile design in the UK. She knows her stuff from the point of view of a professional, not a home-sewer, so her use of terminology (hint: toile = muslin, blocks = sloper) reflects that experience. However, the information is provided in clearly illustrated step-by-step form, with lots of notes and examples. There are even basic slopers in pattern sizes 6-18 (which have to be enlarged) provided for you to work with. You learn how to take measurements, how to add ease and how to adjust the fit by splitting, spreading and overlapping pattern pieces. Unfortunately there’s only a short 2 pages on fitting pants, which really demands a whole book of its own. Lots of design changes (collars, sleeves, cuffs, facings, princess seams, pockets etc.) are discussed. The last chapter is titled “Core Sewing Techniques” but is very short and without much detail so a good basic sewing book is an essential addition.

One thing I really missed was more information on pattern sizing which can totally baffle me, even though I’ve been sewing for millennia. Perhaps it’s not relevant if you are creating a basic block for yourself anyway. But it would be nice to know where to start if I go to buy a commercial pattern. My dilemma is multiple: different pattern companies use different amounts of ease, some use different numbering systems, and it’s all completely different from commercial ready-to-wear. Most women at least know their off-the-rack size intimately. I don’t have a clue! Of course my body is nowhere near any standard size anyway. Is anyone’s? (And it changes when I’m not looking.) In most patterns (McCall’s, Simplicity, Butterick, and some Vogue), I usually begin with a size 12 and adjust the hip and/or waist (if fitted), sleeve length and sometimes hem length. Sandra Betzina’s Today’s Fit patterns from Vogue have a more sensible fit, for me at least.

I did find a helpful article here from Threads. It’s one of the few places where the advice is to go by your high-bust, not regular bust measurement. And the author whips by that detail so quickly you might miss it! Butterick kind of says this too in a roundabout sortof way here. However I have a B cup and don’t need to make any large bust adjustments. This means that even though a standard size 12 pattern has a 34” bust, mine is actually 37” so I theoretically should go to a 14 or even a 16. But I would swim in it! My high-bust/chest is 35” so it should still be too small but I think they also add too much ease. However, on the bottom half of me I’m more like an 18 or 20 (the old pear syndrome!), hence those adjustments necessary on a more fitted garment. Not to mention my short arms! I have to remove about 2” on long sleeves or they cover my hands.

So you can see how being able to make your own patterns, or at least make some major adjusting to commercial ones, might be helpful. I plan to give this book a good workout. As soon as I find my studio under the mess. Again. Things got a little jumbled up there as I was getting ready for the Anne Field spinning workshop. I spent an hour yesterday just cleaning and readjusting my poor drumcarders. They aren’t used to being dragged around and used by strangers who aren’t nearly as nice to them as I am. I even found there was a missing nut and washer that I had to replace from T-Man’s stash. And also found that I need to get me a 7/16ths wrench for my own tool box. T’s tools are not easy to locate in his jumble sometimes.

In the jumble, the mighty jumble…oops. Channelling my inner John Lennon. What? You didn’t know I had one? Don’t get me started. I can quote from both his early books – In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works – better than his music lyrics. And yes, I still have my copies. My favourite is the poem, “I Sat Belonely Down A Tree”. Maybe John looks better through rose-tinted specs? Though I’m not forgetting one of the biggest influences on my teenaged years anyhow. And no, it was actually George who was my favourite Beatle. Yes, I’m that old.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Not A Holiday Monday

The reason it’s not a Victoria Day holiday for me is because T-Man has to work today. So I’m doing exciting things like laundry and continuing weeding my garden, quick before it starts to rain. Again. It’s still pretty cool for this time of year. It warms up some when the sun comes out but you need a light jacket or sweater when it’s hiding behind the clouds again.

We went to Milady Daughter & Milord SIL’s place on Saturday for dinner. Our job was to move her countermarche loom from what will become baby Alien’s room to the current office room. They are definitely nesting and reorganising their home before her “beached whale” time. We had to take the loom apart partially to get it through the doorways but we managed to get it put back together again. Might need a bit of adjustment on the treadle ties when she actually goes to use it. Like most of us who have crafts, computers, camping gear etc., they have a lot of stuff to sort out and to find new places for. A 3-bedroom condo sounds like lots of space but they don’t have a basement, shed, or storage locker to put the things they don’t need all the time but still want to to access without difficulty. It makes me appreciate my detached house all the more, that’s for sure. Old as it is, we have lots of storage spaces: big closets, basement cupboards, cold room, attic spaces, 2 sheds, single detached garage and extra craft rooms bedrooms. The only drawback is the one tiny little bathroom, but we cope.

I wanted to show off the pretty skein I spun from my “backyard” dyes:


That’s about 625 yards of approximately sock-weight crossbred wool yarn. It’s not super-soft but not bad if you aren’t oversensitive. The 12 colours are chosen from my home-grown madder, rhubarb root, rhubarb leaf, blackberry shoots and leaves. No pre-mordanting except some with rhubarb leaf and a few of the colours were modified with a smidge of copper (olivey green) or iron (grey and taupe) or ammonia (muted red). I decided what order to put them in and measured alternating short and long (28" and 54") lengths. Then I broke each length in half and put them in my organiser folder in order so I wouldn’t get mixed up as to which came next. I spun 2 bobbins as similar as possible on my Victoria wheel. Then I plied them together on my Louet S-90 and tried to match the lengths of each colour but not worrying about the occasional area where they didn’t. You can see those overlapping two-tone effects in the skein. The two bobbins ran out at almost the same time and I wound off the extra bit and joined it in too so I used all of it up. The final skein weighs exactly 150g. And there’s twice as much as I need for the pattern I was thinking of using so now I have to reconsider my plans. It’ll be lace and something scarfish/shawlish, that’s all I can say so far. There’s lots of nice patterns to choose from or I could cobble together my own. Then I have to spin some more yarn for the original project that I had in mind. Awww…

In other knitting news, I’ve nearly finished the Super-Secret Project #1 for Alien. Sorry I can’t share! Yet. Haven’t gotten much further on the Happy Legs tights though, just part of the second leg while the first one is up to the knee. Slow going in favour of the baby stuff, gardening and reorganising my yarn. Along with re-sorting and going through the weaving yarns, one of the baskets that hang on the studio wall just took a nose-dive for no reason, spilling yarn balls all over the floor. I never even touched it! (I think it’s trying to tell me something.) There’s also the leftovers of the fleeces from the Anne Field Workshop that will need to be washed sometime soon. They’re not getting any less stinky sitting around! Not starting on that today though. It’s supposed to rain later and I would prefer to put it outside to dry faster.

Oh and I got some new books. I feel some book reviews coming on. Soon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Woolly Wonders

Whew! I’m back finally. It’s been a whole week. That was some ride!

I spent several days madly attempting to plant as many of my seedlings as possible into the garden. I knew I wasn’t going to have much time to fuss with them and really, it was time they were in the ground. They were getting pot-bound and leggy and generally suffering from being held a couple of weeks longer than they should have been. The weather was alternately sunny and cloudy so pretty much perfect transplanting weather. I have to say I still have a few things to go in. But I did my best.

Then there was the crow. I generally like crows but this one made me wish for a slingshot after it nonchalantly pulled out or chopped the tops off nearly a third of my marigold transplants and quite a number of the coreopsis, sunflowers and lobelia as well. This is not normal behaviour – at least not on this scale. But I think the crows have learned new tricks since the advent of the notorious chafer beetle infestation. They pull up the grass clumps that the beetle larvae have eaten the roots off to get at the yummy fat grubs underneath. So my theory is that this crow in particular thought there might be grubs under my plants, even though it isn’t grass and we don’t have chafers in our so-called lawn. I put netting and string and a number of unfamiliar items to hopefully foil the black beastie and I think it worked. I need to take that stuff off soon however because it’s an eyesore as well as bending the tops of the coreopsis rather alarmingly. We’ll see if he (or she) leaves things alone afterward. Crossed fingers.

Then Monday through yesterday was my spinning workshop with Anne Field from New Zealand. Anybody who has been interested in fibre stuff for any length of time has probably heard of Anne, who has 7 books to her name now (including a new one on divoré). Her interests are in spinning and weaving and she knits as well. Anne has taught many workshops in North America and I attended her collapse weave lecture a year ago in Spokane, WA, at the ANWG Conference. She’s teaching that subject in another workshop beginning tomorrow.

Nice to meet someone who has been spinning probably a decade longer than I have! Makes me not feel like such an old-timer. Heh. Here she is demonstrating spinning while standing so that we could see what she was doing. Don’t try this at home!


Yes, this old dog…er, damselfly learned a few new tricks. I learned how to make a woollen puni (tightly wound rolag usually used with cotton) using 2 rulers:


She made a number of them from one rolag. This was for woollen spinning. I also got to use my little 2-row mini-combs for the worsted spinning. Much nicer than flick-carding. Anne flicks differently than I do and just bounces the card on the fleece tips. Did I mention that we were mostly working with wool in the grease? Bleh. Not my favourite. She did suggest that we wash some of the bold fleece, it being from a young ram and rather whiffy. That was soooo much nicer to spin. I think her NZ fleeces must be much cleaner than our Canadian ones to enjoy spinning them in the grease. Even as little as a few weeks after shearing the process becomes not so nice as the grease and suint hardens. It was a fun exercise but I’m going to be washing everything from now on. Anne has not convinced me otherwise even if it is more work.

We were supplied with notes taken from Anne’s book Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics, which is OOP because the publisher went out of business. A new and updated edition will be coming out in September or October with a new publisher, which is great since I don’t have this one. (I know. You are now clutching your heart in surprise, right?) It contains the complete information on Anne’s method of assessing a fleece and spinning it to a pre-determined size and twist count. According to what we did in class, it’s actually easier than it seems. Her approach is kind of the exact opposite to the one that the late Mabel Ross developed but they both end up in a very similar place nonetheless.

SpinningSamples_fineI had collected 3 different fleeces to share with the class. It wasn’t easy! This is my fine sample:  a Merino X from LeeAnn Read from northern Alberta, purchased through Lynne Anderson (Knitopia, White Rock, BC). I don’t know what the sheep is crossed with but it’s a lot easier to work with than purebred merino. The crimp and length is somewhat variable and it’s a large fleece. I gave them as much as I could stuff in the quart bag but I still have more than half of it left. You can see in our sample page that we took a wrapping of the singles, the plied yarn before washing and after washing.

SpinningSamples_med We actually began with the medium fleece: a Rideau Arcott X Canadian Arcott from Jody McLean of Little Smoky Natural Fibres, Valleyview, AB. I don’t think any of us had ever seen an Arcott fleece before and they are a truly Canadian breed so that was a fun lesson. It has quite a lot of sproing to it and is truly white when washed. This skein looks totally unlike anything that I usually spin so I was actually kind of shocked when I produced it! Very pretty and lightweight. Jody also supplied us with a sample of her Blue-faced Leicester X fleece as well. It was loverly stuff. Haven’t spun any up yet though.

SpinningSamples_bold The bold (aka coarse) fleece was a Romney/Rambouillet X from Chris Dalziel of Joybilee Farm, near Greenwood, BC. (This is the same person whose daughter Sarah provided me with my original woad seeds.) The cross with the finer Rambouillet gives the Romney more crimp and nicer handle. However the class named it Stinky Boy due to the extra whiff of ram! One bag-full mysteriously appeared abandoned and nobody would own up to having “misplaced” it. I know I counted them all correctly to begin with! Luckily I’m not particularly bothered by the smell since I will be dealing with the leftovers and it washes out just fine.

The last day we spent creating worsted, semi-worsted, semi-woollen and woollen yarns. To make it easier to see the differences we used one fleece, the Arcott for all of them. My results were ummm…odd. I think I was getting tired by this point and was becoming sloppy. I’ll like do it over again at some point to see if I get the same results! Here they are anyhow:


I’m loving that fleece. I still can’t really do the long-draw properly but used mostly what I call “point-of-contact” one-handed spinning which I learned while spinning cotton on a charkha. I need to practise better long-draw technique. Lots. I think it’s a serious shortcoming to not be able to do it better.

I’m not too happy about having greasy samples in my notes. You might not notice anything right away. However, in my experience, the grease darkens and hardens over time and spreads and soaks into the paper or card that it’s mounted on. Ick. It also attracts m*ths. (We don’t mention that word fully in case it manifests them.) I’d much rather that all samples were properly washed even if that means that some of the information they represent is not apparent. It’s in the notes though. How about a scan or a photo instead?

So all in all, it was a worthwhile experience and I really enjoyed myself. It was a friendly encouraging bunch of ladies, some of whom I hadn’t met before and others whom I’ve known for years. They were happy that they didn’t have to hunt down the fibres themselves and heaped a lot of praise and thanks on me for doing it for them. Made all my stress worthwhile! Whew.

Now I’m super tired and need to unwind, relax and process what I learned. That’s the trouble with workshops: you just get your mind blown. It can both energise and paralyse you at the same time. Takes a bit of time to think about it and maybe try out a few things to see if I retained it all. I also want to talk about Mary Frame’s lecture on Andean textiles that I attended but that’s for another time. Meanwhile I have to go return the Joy wheel that Anne used to Birkeland Bros who so kindly lent it to us for the workshop.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

About Time

Finally, I did something right and there are more Chinese woad plants showing up. This time I left off the clear plastic cover and:


…if you look closely you can see about 6 new babies along with the older ones that now have their second leaves. That’s still not great germination since I planted about 15 seeds! But better than nuttin’. I don’t really need more than that. They are staying under the lights for awhile longer while they hopefully catch up some. I also have a half-dozen weld babies now too and that’s also plenty. They are tiny!

Now of course, because I was spending so much time on the front garden, the back garden needs major work. However it’s going to have to wait for the full job until after my spinning workshop next week. It’s still cool at night, though it promises to be quite warm and sunny for the next few days. I still haven’t quite gotten up the nerve to leave the tomatoes and peppers out in the greenhouse overnight yet. Nor have I planted the beans. (Maybe today?) The zukes and cukes are outgrowing their little pots though so today they’re going into the greenhouse to start hardening off. It’s mid-May already! Time to get a move on here!

Speaking of moving, I need to go sort wool! I finally got the last fleece for the spinning workshop (Anne Field from NZ! Yay!). It’s a lovely soft and clean Rideau-Arcott X Canadian Arcott from Jody McLean in Alberta. This one is the middle grade. I also have a last-year’s Merino X fleece (not sure of the farm, supplied by Lynne of Knitopia) for the fine grade and a Romney/Rambouillet X from Chris at Joybilee Farm for the coarse (though it’s almost too soft and fine for that designation). All crossbreeds you’ll note. Interesting. I do hope everyone is satisfied with the choices. I worked awfully hard to get them.

Speaking of spinning, I finished spinning half of the wool in colours that I picked out of my recent dye experiments (combinations of rhubarb, madder & blackberry). I’ve alternated short and long sections of 12 colours, then divided them in half so I could spin 2 similar bobbins and then ply them together. The total weight is about 150 g and I’m aiming for a sock-weight. Not to knit socks though. I’m planning a moebius scarf. More about the pattern later. First I have to finish the yarn.

Speaking of knitting, I had to frog a chunk of my Super-Secret Project because I dropped a stitch and carried on for another 3 freaking inches! Before I noticed and couldn’t pick up the stitch because there was no room. I’m nearly back to where I was several days ago. Sigh. My leggings are languishing while I finish this project. Oh well. Can’t really expect to wear them until late next fall anyhow. Lots of time. OK, it goes fast.

On top of sorting wool and planting beans, I need to go get my hair cut today. I hope I can get an appointment. I don’t have time to go other than sometime today. I hate it when my hair is longer than about an inch and a half!

I nearly forgot – thanks to all who wished me a Happy Blogiversary! I’m so glad you are enjoying my blathering, such as it is.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

At Least It’s Sunny

Not too warm yet, but much better than it was. It’s so funny that nobody can figure out what to wear! You see folks in shorts and flip-flops and other folks in coats – on the same street. Personally, I like it when it’s cooler but then I’m not exactly a hothouse flower.

We spent most of the weekend in the garden, weeding and planting. Also T-Man and I took a rather harrowing trip in the VW van out to Ikea and the plant store on Saturday. I say “harrowing” because old Fraulein Blau was acting up and kept nearly stalling out. She needs to go see ‘Doctor’ Hans and get checked out because there is something definitely wrong with her. We need her functional so we can go on the annual fambly camping trip to Manning Park in June. Even though it was white-knuckled, we drove the van because there’s only just so much one can get into a MINI-Cooper besides oneself.

The plant store was ridiculously crowded with everyone buying things for Mother’s Day. We picked up a lovely dark-leafed ninebark for the space where my coreopsis was last year. (Now it’s in the new dye garden so there was a large gap in the bed.) We also found a new pieris with burgundy-coloured new leaves, unlike our old ones with pink-to-reddish spring colour. Wonder what colour the flowers are? Probably purple or deep pink. And lastly a lovely yellow-orange azalea to put in the gap near the dye garden, behind the butterfly bushes. You can’t see it from the house unfortunately but it’s right out in the open for the enjoyment of passersby.

Here’s the east garden now that everything is planted:


It’s going to look quite spectacular when everything comes into bloom. And here’s the east garden under the hazelnut monster…er, tree:


It has a lot of heucheras and hostas because I love the different leaf colours. We have a little bit more to complete (further to the right out of the photo) and then we’re done. At least until the rhododendrons need pruning after the flowers finish. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But it’s not as bad as it seems – and it’s fun! Some people go to the gym and some people shovel compost and dig weeds. At least we have something to show for our efforts.

Anyway, I’m somewhat annoyed with the seeds I got from Richters. I had very poor germination and it’s not like I’m not experienced at growing things from seed. Been doing it for decades. To wit: the other seeds (mostly from West Coast Seeds) that I planted on the same day look like this:


And the Richters seedlings look like this:


Notice the two pathetic little Chinese woad plants (out of a dozen), the teensy little welds peeking out on the right with the creeping lemon thyme behind them. Sad. I planted some more Chinese woad two or three at a time in each spot and we’ll see if they do any better. It’s getting mighty late for them to get to harvesting size before fall though so they’d better hurry up!

You might remember that I mentioned Ikea back there somewhere but since we aren’t done with that project, I’ll keep it under my sunhat for the moment.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Five Years! (& Counting)


Happy Blogiversary to Damselfly!! Yes, Dear Readers, it’s been 5 whole years since I started this little adventure. This is Post #1005. Who’d a-thunk it? Obviously I have a few things I want to say, huh? I’d like to thank Blogger for their hosting. Though their post editor is not as good as it could be – which is why I’ve been using Windows Live Writer for the last year or so. I am quite liking my new template though. And thank you, Dear Readers. At least I’m not babbling into the ether all alone.

So, back to the sewing/clothing/designing issue from yesterday. How do you know what suits you? Not just your body shape, but your personality and also possibly your lifestyle? I mean, when you sew your garments it’s not like you can try them on before committing to them like you can with ready-to-wear. You need to develop an eye for what you like, what works on your body, and what integrates well with your existing wardrobe and your job and other activities. I think the biggest issue is to be truly honest with yourself. Honest about your shape, height, age, career (or lack of one in my case), and taste.

For instance, if you’re 5’3.5” (and shrinking!), distinctly pear-shaped, older and fairly active like me, that will lead you in certain directions as far as which garments are worth your time and effort to create. I don’t need fancy clothes such as business suits or party dresses. And I’m not chic and elegant. I walk lots in all weathers, do crafts, gardening and housework. I need practical. I’m down-to-earth and a little funky/craftsy. All this dictates what I can and will wear.

So one way to see what looks good on you is to go into favourite clothing stores and just try things on. Better if you can photograph yourself in the mirror to record your impressions for later! However, that won’t really work for me since so many commercial garments don’t fit me properly anyhow. I tend to work from past experience instead. Such as: I know that wrap tops, and “bubble” shapes do not flatter, bunch up and are uncomfortable on me. I have big problems with skirts hanging wrong. (Jumpers are better but they seem to be out at the moment.) Necklines that are too low or too wide are not good. Ease has to be just right. Too loose makes me swim and overwhelms my small frame. But too tight isn’t good either because there are increasing lumps and bumps that don’t want to be emphasized. Garment lengths are the opposite extreme: either near the waist or below the hip, not at the hip. Sort of like Goldilocks trying to find “just right”, huh?

Another method of finding flattering shapes is to use croquis (pronounced “crow-key” and a single one is a croqui, pronounced the same way). These are sketches of your garments as they look on a body and they fall into two types: fashion croquis and flat croquis. The first type is to provide a context and a mood (aka artsy) and the second is to show the garment’s lines and details (aka practical). Personally, I think the first type can go to whatever hell Barbie dolls should be confined to! They are not at all realistic. The second type is what I always look for on the pattern envelope, in Burda Style magazine and anyplace else I can find them. They are like knitting schematics in a way but with more detail and without the actual measurements. You can see where the seams are and the proportions and shapes without all the foofaraw of “fashion photography” or actual fabrics getting in the way. And you can draw your own! Like the paper dolls I drew incessantly when I was a kid.

But you’re going to say you can’t draw. I’m very out of practise at that myself. However, there are ways around this. Firstly there are basic croquis that you can trace over and add your own details. There’s one here (if you save it as a .jpg, you’ll have to open in a graphic editor and eliminate the ad) plus an article by the same author here and BurdaStyle’s own croquis with a tutorial here. Threads magazine has a whole family of realistically-sized croquis you can download in PDF here. This should be enough to get you started. And even if you don’t sew but knit and/or crochet, croquis could be very useful for you too. Especially if you are interested in designing and perhaps one day getting patterns published. There’s an article on Connie Chang Chinchio in the KnitScene mag that I talked about the other day and her croquis are shown in one of the photos.

Another even better way to make more personally functional croquis is to have someone photograph you in your foundation garments in several different positions against a blank wall. You can print out and trace over your very own shape! I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time but somehow never get around to it. Just like I also really need a dressmaker’s manikin. I have the materials to make one. Just need to find that old Round Tuit. Anybody seen where it’s been hiding?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

May in the New Arctic

I don’t know about no global warming – it’s flippin’ freezing around here! There was actual frost on the garage roofs this morning. Yikes! We should have been done with any chance of frost weeks ago. My poor broccoli is turning purple. So are the marigolds in the greenhouse. Sob. Everything else seems to be doing ok, though they aren’t growing very fast. Happily I still have all the truly warm-weather stuff either in the basement or not even planted yet. (Beans, anyone?)

On another subject entirely, I need to spend some quality time and clean up my study and studio spaces. I seem to have been dumping things higgledy-piggledy and not putting them away properly. It’s a Fibre Art Nightmare! And it still smells like a sheep barn too. All this because, besides wanting to see calm out of the chaos, I really want to sew something with my newly refurbished sewing machine. I need some new (or at least refashioned) clothes. Badly. Yes, I know I’ve been talking about this for ages and…um…not doing anything about it. Apart from knitting and crocheting. My excuse is those latter are portable projects.

I so have problems with “fashion”! (Yeah, here she goes again!) Most modern clothing is designed for a tall, slim, young woman. That is the Polar Opposite of me. I am none-of-the-above. The only other option is the “plus-size” which I also am not. So instead I usually dress in stretchy casual sportswear from shops like Marks Work Wearhouse and Zellers. Bleh. The other problem I have is with the current styles which, just when they are getting closer to something I might actually find attractive, change. Because heaven forefend we should stop buying clothes. Fashion is a moving target. All in the name of profit. I welcome any and all resistance efforts, people.

My personal protest over this state of affairs is to wear 10-year-old sweatpants and vintage t-shirts. However, I would like occasionally to look a little more Me and a little less big-box retail. I have the skills I need. I even have most of the stuff in the stash. I just need to take the time to actually do it! I need inspiration. And to clean off the cutting table so I can get to work.

In my hunt for clothing inspiration, I’ve been looking at Anthropologie which, although not always appropriate for me, has some really great imaginative pieces. Like this one:


Wanna see the back too?


I’m picturing it with different fabrics from my stash. And maybe a higher front neck and a little less of a racerback. (Though that actually makes me look as if I have shoulders! Novel.) The trick with the longer tunics that are popular right now is not to make them too voluminous or it looks like a pregnancy top. I don’t care how thin you are underneath! And since I already have a belly but am much too mature to be pregnant, we don’t need to go there. This style flattens through the tummy but has some fullness to accommodate the hips and give some curves. That front panel is not flat but has subtle shaping and is eased into the neckline. As for the sides, that plaid fabric makes it more obvious where the shaping is hiding. Helpful for knockoffs, what?

BurdaStyle is one good online resource for sewers (sewists?) and I’ve been a member for a few years. It’s mostly too hip for me, but it’s fun to see what younger folks are doing with clothes they actually wear. There are downloadable copyright-free patterns and sewing information and tutorials. This is not to be confused with the pattern company Burda who besides regular paper patterns, also publish Burda Style magazine, formerly called Burda, World of Fashion. (Are you following this?) All the Burdas have a refreshing European vibe which I kind of enjoy. At least some of the time.

I actually have quite a few of the Burda WOF/Style magazines which come with a pattern insert. However it is a lot of work to get a usable pattern. You have to trace off your size and often extend lengths to get each piece. The tradeoff is that you get dozens of patterns for the same cost as a single paper pattern. Depends I guess on how badly you want to wear it, right? (Compare with drafting your own pattern from scratch. I rest my case.) Also the sewing instructions are rudimentary at best (no assembly diagrams) and some of the garments are quite complex – at least compared to most of the offerings from the popular pattern companies these days. I recommend getting some good sewing experience under your belt before tackling the hard stuff. Also get a good basic sewing book or several. They will stand you in good stead forever. And perhaps suggest alternate ways to assemble your garments. Nobody said you had to follow the instructions exactly as long as you get the desired results! The emphasis is on “desired” results. May I add, make and use a muslin? That’s something I often skip – to my regret. At least use cheap fabric the first time, just in case. You can’t frog it like a sweater.

I think what you really need, besides knowing how to sew, is a set of basic patterns that actually fit your body. In technical terms, a sloper is a body-hugging basic: bodice, sleeve, skirt, or pant. Then you take that and add your desired ease (wearing and fashion) and style lines to get your pattern. I prefer to have more regular-fitting basic clothing patterns (t-shirt, blouse, jacket etc.) and go from there. It’s easy to reshape a neckline, add more or less ease, lengthen or shorten sleeves and hemlines etc. The most difficult fitting areas for most people are the shoulder/sleeve cap and pants waist/hip/crotch, though some women might also have to adjust for a fuller bust. If you get those areas right, the rest usually follows relatively easily. We are all such different shapes – even if we have the same basic measurements!

I have lots more on this subject, but I’m running out of time for babbling at the moment. More anon. It’s sunny out and warming up finally. Though rain is possible by this afternoon. Again.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Snagged The Elusive Mag

KnitSceneI was hunting all over for the most recent (Winter/Spring 2010) issue of Interweave’s KnitScene (Rav link) and couldn’t find one stinkin’ copy. I obviously didn’t start looking early enough. It’s no longer available to order on the website either – out of print. It’s a very popular issue, filled with great designs, and my favourite magazine shop which we visit weekly never even got it in stock. Boo-hoo.

Anyhow luckily for me, my knit-buddy Chelle was kind enough to loan me her copy. So at least I can read it! Now I’m totally smitten with the Tudor Henley. And the Helleborus Yoke. And the Conifer shawl (for which there’s an errata available). And…and…I’m going to have to give the magazine back. I would totally buy a copy if there was one to buy. (Shhh…don’t tell the copyright cops. I have a scanner and I know how to use it.)

Moving right along, the wool and Zephyr wool/silk skein that I dyed yesterday is dry:


Not sure how accurate the colours are on the screen but the skein is a soft gold (it had an little swim in an ammonia modifier bath) and the wool is brighter yellow. I still couldn’t get myself to throw out the rest of the dyebath so I sealed it in a canning jar. Probably it will be tossed eventually! Only a light yellow is left in it now. At least I managed to put the extracted root bits in the compost! Otherwise I’d be trying to get more colour out of the poor things. Now I want to spin some multicoloured yarn out of all the wool. With long colour changes.

I sorted out most of the fleeces for the upcoming Anne Field workshop that I’ll be taking. My study smells like a sheep barn and I need to go buy more baggies! I was asked to provide the wool and it has been a much more difficult job than I expected. Anne asked for fine, medium and coarse fleece at 100g for each participant (13 packets total). Still not sure I got it right but too bad! Plus some wool sliver which was easy-peasy. Just walk down the 3 blocks to Birkeland Bros. Then they tell me they also need drumcarders and a spinning wheel for Anne to use. I volunteered both of my carders (since the guild ones are frankly crap) but don’t really have a suitable wheel to spare. I asked if Birkeland Bros would be willing to lend a Joy or Traditional and they will – in trade for me getting some of Anne’s books signed for them! Now I have to track somebody down to give me, my own gear, plus all of this stuff, a ride out to Capilano University in North Van. Not like I can take it on the bus, yo’. And folks wonder why I’m getting un-enamoured with taking workshops no matter how incredible the instructor or fascinating the subject. Too much flippin’ stress! This had better be a worthwhile exercise. Just sayin’.

I also gave in to startitis and began a Super-Secret Project for Alien Baby. No news because it’s a secret, silly! Hope it doesn’t cause me to give up on the Happy Legs tights. I started the second leg and have 5 or 6” done already. It’ll soon catch up to the first leg.

What else. It’s been windy and cold so no more planting outside until it warms up. I think I should have made my broccoli some little sweaters but everything else seems to be taking it in stride. I swear it was warmer in January! Squashes and the first of the Chinese woad are popping up under the lights so the temp had better improve darn quick before I run out of places to put things.

Oh, and I haven’t discussed this for awhile – the psoriasis is finally starting to behave itself. Not perfect by any stretch but a lot better than it’s been for the past year. I’m down to a less complex regimen of ointments now and I have another appointment with Dr. Serious Dermatologist in June. So nice to finally feel like we’re getting somewhere with it after so long. However, I’d hate to have a total of what this would have cost if T-Man didn’t have a good extended medical plan at work that pays 80%. Just one prescription alone cost nearly $100. And there are 5 more medications, not including several others that I had to discontinue. Oy.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Dyeing Sunshine & Shadows

I was again playing with my Backyard Dyes this weekend. First it was rhubarb, both leaf and root. Again, I used the leaves from when I picked rhubarb for sauce to mordant both some Louet Gems superwash wool and some more of my quickly-dwindling supply of crossbred wool sliver. Then I soaked overnight about 50g of chopped and dried rhubarb root that I got a couple of years ago when I divided my old rhubarb plants. It has a very strong yellow dye that just keeps coming out! According to Jenny Dean, rhubarb root doesn’t need a mordant to be fast so I kept part of the dyebath separate to see what colours I would get without the rhubarb leaf underneath. I also used both baths again for lighter colours.


I ended up with lots of subtly different shades of yellow and gold. The superwash took the dye quite unevenly so I played up one skein that had no rhubarb leaf mordant (photo centre, top of the pile) by dipping each of four corners of the skein in copper (brass), acetic acid (bright gold), iron (olive green), and ammonia (red-gold) modifiers. The modifications weren’t quite as intense as I expected, particularly the ammonia (alkaline) one which only shifted the colour slightly toward orange.

The colours were more clear without the rhubarb leaf base. There was a distinct green overtone in the pot with the wool that had been mordanted in it. Even wool with no mordant came out more gold in that pot so the rhubarb leaf definitely had an effect. The superwash wool seemed duller though in either pot and the brightest and prettiest wool was the no mordant/rhubarb root only/ammonia modified piece (bottom right in the photo). The lightest piece (just above) was rhubarb leaf only, no root.

Then I couldn’t stop so went out with the gardening gloves and the pruning shears and collected a bucket full of blackberry leaves and shoots from the back hedge. My sources say that tannin is the main colourant here. Even though everyone thinks of the berries as being dye, they are definitely not colourfast! An older sample I have in a book I inherited is now light brown, not the purple it once was. And that sample was never washed and rarely ever saw light either. Fugitive colour for sure. Just eat the berries. However the abundant shoots and leaves have a useful purpose.

I chopped it all up (carefully! ouch!), brought it to a simmer in water, cooked it for awhile then turned it off and left it to stew overnight. Sunday morning I removed the blackberry bits (carefully! still prickly!) and divided out some of the dye into a separate pot. I put the rest of the wool that had been mordanted in rhubarb leaf in one pot and some unmordanted in the other. The wool with no mordant came out of the blackberry pot a warm cream colour. A 5-minute dip in iron modifier and it was a darker neutral gray. The superwash yarn came out much darker than the wool roving. I ended up saving most of the soft cream piece of wool roving out of the iron just because I liked the colour the way it was. Though the gray was very nice too.

In the other pot, I got a really odd cream and grayed-purple variegated effect on the rhubarb leaf-mordanted wool. The first batch that went in was as expected somewhat darker than the second batch that I added later. I used an iron modifier on most of the wool from this pot, except for samples, because the unmodified colour wasn’t particularly attractive. The superwash came out of the iron very dark steel gray while the roving was much lighter. The second batch I put in was a similar shade to the non-mordanted wool but with a slightly more brown undertone. After the iron modifier, the really uneven superwash skein became quite an even colour. Surprise!

The results of the blackberry with iron modifier is an interesting range of neutrals:


You just never quite know what you’re going to get from plants, do you? Then there was still colour coming from the rhubarb roots so after extracting them one more time this morning, I threw it all into one pot with a skein of Zephyr silk and wool lace yarn. It came out a light golden colour even after an attempt with ammonia modifier, so I think I won’t mess with it further. There’s still a couple of pieces of roving cooling in the pot and we’ll see if they can suck the last colour from it before I dispose of the remains. That 50g of chopped and dried root dyed nearly 400g of fibre! Pretty impressive colour yield.

Rhubarb is far more interesting than you’d think, since it usually gets no mention in natural dye books. And I only have a couple of 35-year-old plants to play with. Also I never thought of using my blackberry vines that always need pruning. I’ve learned a lot! Remember, eat the fruits and dye with the inedible parts. LOL!! Now I should spin up some of my colours.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


I…um…slipped up yesterday at Dressew. I needed a separating zipper to remake an old handspun pullover vest that I had already fulled (on purpose) in the washing machine. It’s now very thick, warm and nearly bulletproof. Of course it’s also too small and needs to be opened up the front for the zip and up the sides so they can be extended with side gussets. I couldn’t decide which colour went best, navy or purple, so at a whole $2.19 each, I bought both. And I still haven’t picked which one to use yet.

Naturally, while I was at the Wonder That Is Our Dressew I…ahem, noticed they had a new shipment of yarns in. So I finally indulged. I mean really - $1.99 a ball for any yarn! How could one resist? Especially when I came across Regia sock yarn in about 20 colourways. Most of it was the Kaffe Fassett Design Line and other similar ones that come in the small 50g balls so you need 2 for a pair of socks. But still - $4 per pair is better than the $16-$18 it usually costs. And Regia is great long-wearing yarn. I also got some super-top-secret yarn for something or other for Alien, as Milady Daughter has been calling my upcoming grandbaby. Not blogging about these projects until much later. After all, Alien isn’t due to make an appearance until November. You’ll just have to wait to see any upcoming FOs until then.

So anyway, I managed to end up with an entire shopping bag full of yarn! 33 balls to be exact at just over $65. Not bad at all, though I’m running out of storage room for this stuff. It seems that everything I’ve made recently has been with sock yarn so it will all get used eventually. Please keep me away from Dressew in future!

I’ve also been dyeing yarns. The rhubarb leaf is done and most of that wool is currently in a rhubarb root (yellow) pot. There’s a separate yellow pot with unmordanted wool too just to see the differences. I also chopped up some blackberry shoots and am currently extracting a dyebath from them. I want to see if I can get gray from it. We have lots of blackberry bushes to experiment with anyhow. More about this later when I’ve finished playing.

While I was dyeing with the rhubarb leaves yesterday, I also used some synthetic dyes on my 6 balls of sock yarn that I bought in March at FibresWest. The half-price I paid ($7.20 each) now seems a lot when I could have got it for $1.99 but hey, I buys ’em where I sees ’em! Also it was a light colour so it could be overdyed and I didn’t see anything appropriate at Dressew anyhow. Once natural and tan stripes it’s now:


Inky black and purple with brown highlights. Hard to photograph, it’s somewhat darker than it looks here. Gorgeous! And just the colours I wanted in my mind’s eye. I did a low-water immersion on all the skeins at once and used my big stainless steel commercial buffet warming tray on the dye-stove using two burners under it. Worked really well. I rescued this tray from T-Man’s elderly auntie’s house when we were cleaning it out. She had used it for a kitty litter pan! (Yes, of course I cleaned it up carefully first.) It’s very heavy steel and I’m happy I scored it before it got trashed.

The black dye is Lanaset/Telana which is by far my favourite black because it doesn’t lean toward purple or green or brown but is dead black. I used just enough water to come about halfway up the depth of the skeins and included some acetic acid in the water. Then I drizzled the black dyestock over first and followed it with some leftover acid dyes in red, bright magenta-pink and a little yellow at the last just to tone it down some from totally purple. Even though I didn’t measure anything I must have used the right amount of dyestock because it all went into the fibre and the water was nearly clear at the end. It’s all I can do not to start knitting with this right away. I want to make the Abotanicity by Cassie Rovitti from Knitty, Winter 2007.

On the leggings, I’m up just past the knee and able to switch over to a 16” circular. Now I can start the other leg with the dpns and the second ball of yarn. I hate to get too far before I catch up the second leg so I can make sure they match ok.

How can it be May already? It’s still not warm enough at night and I’m still schlepping flats of ever-growing plants in and out of the greenhouse daily. Please tell me I’ll be able to actually plant them in the garden some day soon?