Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Late Summer Rain

Can’t say the land doesn’t need the water we’re getting today but it feels more like winter than summer. I’m trying not to feel guilty that I should have picked the coreopsis yesterday but instead I weeded the veggie garden. It felt good to be out in the dirt again! The garden is definitely slowing down now though at least we’ve had great summer weather after that lousy spring. They’re predicting a cold winter this year with lots of precipitation thanks to good old La Niña. We’ll have all those lovely hot summer days to remember when we’re shivering in our shoes!

T-Man and I had a lovely weekend. On Saturday we loaded the bikes up on Fraulein (our old VW Westphalia) and went out to Richmond to ride on the dykes. (Don’t look at me funny. That’s how they spell it on the signs!) We started at River Road somewhat to the east of the Olympic Skating Oval and carried on past to Terra Nova:

Me and the bikes

That’s me with Roscoe and Rideau. Notice my new tote-bag/pannier-basket. I got it from Mountain Equipment Coop and it works a treat! Holds my backpack so I don’t have to. It doesn’t put my balance off the way it does carrying the weight on my back. Anyway, then we turned the corner:


and headed towards Steveston. Once there we found an even larger crowd than usual. They were having some kind of seafood celebration so we even had a hard time finding a bike rack to park in! We ended up chaining up to a fence by the wharf. Then we found a quieter spot where we had a lovely lunch on the deck at the Mandalay:


Crab cakes and prawns and drinks – oh, my! Meanwhile while we were relaxing, everyone else was buying up all the seafood and leaving no fish for us, even though we had brought a bag along to pack it in. When we got to the ramp it looked like this:


The line-ups were ridiculous and many boats had sold out already. Unfortunately we weren’t interested in live sea urchins or frozen spot prawn tails which was just about all that was left so we went home empty-handed. At least we had seafood for lunch!

On the way back we stopped for a look at the big turtles that live in the ditch behind the dyke:

Turtles and Duck

I like that someone has made them a couple of sunning spots, also enjoyed by the duck.

Somewhere on the ride I lost the stupid magnet that’s part of my electric assist system. It had already been fixed once when I bought the bike but fell out again. T-Man fixed it this time and hopefully it will stay. I can’t be bothered to go back to those twits people again. Luckily the assist still worked, just not the braking and recharging so I got back to the van just fine. We rode 23 kilometres round trip. That’s nearly the equivalent of T riding to work and back and work again and the wind was blowing pretty hard the whole time. (Check the whitecaps in the first 2 pics.) I was pretty impressed with me.

On Sunday, we lazed around in bed and later walked to the market for a few groceries. So T is scheduled to get the last 3 weeks of September off work. If we don’t get to go away anywhere, this is the type of “day-cation” we hope to have instead. Lots of them. Interspersed with lots of relaxing. Depending of course on the weather.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I spent a good long time on Saturday sewing up grandson Stargazer’s new sweater and…forgot to photograph it before I gave it to him on Sunday. Rats! Now it won’t be easy to get a picture for my notes. However I will try, starting with a request that one of his parents take one for me on the boy. We’ll see how far that goes! Anyhow I did finish it. Some small accomplishment makes me feel better about my languishing crafts.

Speaking of which, the rag quilt project got kind of stalled at the ironing phase. My hands could only take doing a few pieces at a time. I hope to carry on some more this afternoon and get the last few pieces done. I want to start cutting out the flannelette inner layer and see how many squares short it leaves me. It will be an adventure trying to find a comparable substitute to complete the total 256 approximately 7.5”-8” squares I need. Their actual size will depend on how close the measurements work out on the sheets. The seam allowance can be anything from 1/2” to 1” depending on how much fraying you want and I haven’t totally decided yet the exact size I’m going for.

In other news, the P-Word is improving a little. Two steps forward and one step back though. At least that’s what it seems like. My feet are mostly clear enough that I can walk again but if I go too far, I’ll regret it the next day with small splits. My hands are able to escape gloves for short durations during the day but I need to moisturise them constantly. My fingertips are thick and dry and clumsy and the palms are sensitive to pokes and rough edges. The rising tide seems to have slowed (or maybe even stopped, dare I say?) after covering my breasts about where my bra does and my inner arms up to my armpits. My legs are fairly clear now however and the skin is slowly going back to a more normal colour. I still spend way too much time gooping myself up with various potions but I’m feeling a small glimmer of optimism. At least it’s better than the alternative, right?

After perusing the Internet and chasing down as many leads as I could find, I’ve come to the conclusions that a) doctors really know spit about how to treat psoriasis and b) that leaves the door open for snake-oil salesmen of every stripe. Persons With P are desperate for something to relieve symptoms. The fact that what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another and that what works for a time doesn’t necessarily continue to work just compounds the desperation. “If you just use this cream/eat this diet/get this light you’ll be cured!” Hah. Personally I’ve already used something like 8 different prescription meds, 4 over-the-counter creams, my own handmade cream and shea butter with varying success. My pharmacists know me on a first name basis. I’m actually getting a tan after decades of avoiding the sun. I don’t wear anything that shows tar and grease stains or that I care about at all. Right now at least, this disease is dictating my life in a big way. Which is why you, my gentle readers, are being subjected to too much of my babbling about it! I don’t have much else to talk about really.

Off to water the garden. Again. The weather is lovely – sunny and hot-but-not-too-hot in the day but cooler at night. Perfect.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Didja Miss Me?

No, I did not fall off the edge of the earth! I’m still here plugging away and trying to regain my equilibrium after the disappointments and frustrations of last week. I’m sure you didn’t want to hear me bitch and complain. I didn’t want to hear me either! Suffice it to say that there have been some improvements and some…not so much. Moving on. I’ve got lots to tell so this is going to be a looooong post.

It has been stinking hot here – though not quite as bad as last summer. Sleeping has been difficult, at least until the house cools down in the middle of the night. I cannot sleep properly without covers up to my chin! (Why is that?) Today is cloudy and cooler and a lot more comfortable. Up to now I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time watering everything in sight and it seems a lovely reprieve to slow down. We are eating beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and even a pepper or two from the garden now along with the summer squashes, salad greens and kale. I have new baby green things planted that will hopefully produce before the fall cold slows them down. If we’re lucky the first frost won’t be until late October. Though Luck doesn’t seem to be my friend these days so I won’t keep my hopes up. Whatever!

T-Man has been continuing to ride his electric-assist bike every day. And he’s lost some weight with all the exercise too. He is very pleased with the fact that he can get as much assist - or not - as he likes. If he’s feeling particularly energetic he can even apply resist which is great for going down hills and charges the battery at the same time. I’ll be interested to see what happens when the weather changes. He’s been talking about getting some nylon rain pants to go with his jacket. A positive sign. 

Even though things are improving somewhat I’m still wearing gloves nearly every single moment: alternating between cotton, disposable nitrile, gardening and heavy-weight nitrile. My hands are still too sensitive (thanks to the corticosteroids) and my fingers are still peeling (thanks to the Soriatane, which I’m thankfully no longer taking). I am really truly missing my knitting! So instead I’ve been dyeing which I must do with gloves on anyway.

I’ve been using Procion MX dyes which are for cellulose fibres like cotton, linen, rayon, tencel, bamboo, etc. and work in warm water. No need for a heat source or heat-proof dyepots. I’m quite familiar with these having learned how to use them in Applied Design class way back in high school in the 1960’s. (Yes, young-uns, that was the stereotypical “hippy tie-dye” days! Don’t laugh.) First, just to whet my appetite (wet my dye-petite?), I dyed my stained white cotton gloves:


I call it “Damselfly’s Camouflage”! At least they aren’t dirty white with added tar stains anymore: seven pairs, one for each day of the week. Although recently I’ve only been wearing the two pairs with longer fingers and washing them by hand to wear them again. Even if I finally heal enough not to need gloves in the daytime, I’ll still need them at night. It keeps me from rubbing my face with tarred hands! Ick.

The adventurous part of trying to dye the gloves was that even though they were fresh out of the laundry, they still had lots of residual grease and oil embedded in them. Some of the dye (I used turquoise, purple, and scarlet/orange) had a hard time taking and there was quite an oil slick on the surface of the liquid. So after that first attempt (too pink! blech.) I simmered them in a dyepot with Synthrapol, rinsed and tried again with my favourite moss green (a proprietary mixed dye from Maiwa). This time I nuked the dish to make sure the dye had set. There was still some oil slick but it worked much better. At least now they don’t show the tar stains or the dirt and T no longer calls me Minnie Mouse. (Hi, Mickey!)

Flush with that success I decided that it was time to tackle the vintage cotton sheets that I’ve been promising to make into a rag quilt. I collected these from close family members who have since passed away: my adopted mom and T’s auntie. (They weren’t dead at the time! Just going into care homes.) The sheets are all lovely pure cotton, unlike the cotton/poly sheets that are so common now, and all different sizes from crib to double. (Though why auntie -who was unable to have children - had two crib-sized sheets in her stash, I’ll never know!) I tore them into quarters to make the pieces easier to handle - except for the crib sheets which I plan to use as tablecloths if I don’t need them for the quilt. There were 22 pieces in total, which to simplify dye measurements I considered approximately a yard each. Probably lots more fabric than I actually need for the quilt. Awwww…

This was a big project, so I got out my trusty copy of Ann Johnston’s Color By Accident to remind me of the amounts of dye and assists and the recipe for her ‘parfait’ dyeing technique. I definitely wanted accidental colours! But to keep them somewhat coordinated I only used 4 dyes: gold yellow, scarlet, emerald and black. The first two are pure colours and the latter two are proprietary mixes, all from Maiwa. I also got out the soda ash which is the ‘fixer’ for Procion dyes and for once I actually used urea which I usually skip, though at a lower rate than recommended in the book.

Parfait Dyeing
(based on Johnston but with modifications by me)

Prepare the cloth. If not PFD (prepared for dyeing) it needs to be scoured in hot water and detergent. Mine of course was already washed many times, plus once more when I brought it home. The recipe works best with 1 yd. (1 metre) pieces, so tear to size.

Wet the cloth. I used the washing machine filled to “low” with warm water and just threw everything in to soak until I needed it. I kept the crib sheets separate to dye at the end to use up any leftover dye stock.

Mix up the urea water. I used hot-ish water and added 4 tbsp (60 ml) urea to the 5 cups total (about 1.25 litres) that I needed. Use more urea (2-4 tbsp per cup) if you have difficulty getting the dye powders to dissolve in solution.

Mix up the dye stocks. I used 2 tbsp (30 ml) dye powder per cup (250 ml) of urea water, except for the black which was 2 tbsp (30 ml) per half-cup (125 ml). I made 2 c. of gold yellow, 1.5 c. of scarlet, 1 c. of emerald and 1/2 c. of black: 11 tbsp of dye powder total. This was enough to dye the whole shebang a medium shade. Don’t mix more than you can use in a few days because it doesn’t keep very long in solution and it doesn’t keep at all once the soda ash hits it.

Mix up the soda ash solution. I needed 22 cups (5.2 litres) total and Johnston’s formula is 9 tbsp (approx. 130 ml) soda ash to 1 US gallon water (just under 4 litres), so I used about 11 tbsp + 2 tsp soda ash in my tap-hot water. It would cool quite a bit before I needed it.

Hunt down every ice-cream bucket (or similar size) that you can find. I used 6 buckets (including one larger one) and a buffet warming tray. Really you only need one for every 3 pieces of fabric to be dyed.

Mix a dye colour. I used disposable plastic cups that hold approx 1 c. with a little room left over to stir. In the cup I added about 4 or 5 tbsp (60-70 ml) of dye stock, mixing colours as I liked, and then topped it up with plain warm water to about 1 c (250 ml). You can use more or less dye stock depending on how dark or light you want your colours but always top up with warm water to make one cup. Make a new cup of diluted dye stock in this way for every layer of cloth, deciding which colour you want next. They will effect the each other to varying degrees depending on which order you layer them. (More on that later.)

Layer one. Squeeze out a piece of fabric and arrange in a scrunched-up layer in the bottom of a bucket. Add a cup of plain warm water. Press and squish to get out the air bubbles. Pour over your first dye colour. Press and squish some more. More movement means more homogenous results. I prefer not to play with it too much. Pour one cup of soda ash solution over and press and mix some more to make sure it penetrates throughout.

Layer two. After 5-10 min. squeeze out and arrange a second piece of fabric over the first one. Pour another colour cup of dye over and mix a little. Pour another cup of soda ash solution over and lift and press a little to distribute. This colour will effect the bottom layer quite a bit and the bottom layer’s colour will transfer some to layer two.

Layer three. After another 5-10 minutes, repeat the instructions as for layer two. This colour will effect the bottom and the second layer and the second layer’s colour will effect the top one. You can turn the top layer over (which I forgot to do) after a few more minutes and press it more to get more of the other colours onto it. It won’t be as multi-toned as the other layers and the bottom one will have the most.

Leave alone for the dye to set at least one hour. I left the buckets outdoors on the deck overnight.

Rinse in cool to warm water. You don’t want to use hot water at this first stage or you will lose some of the dye. I rinsed each piece a bit in the sink and then threw it into the washing machine (filled with warm water and a couple of tsp of Synthrapol) with the others. Then I ran it all through a wash cycle.

Wash again in very hot water. I ran it all through another wash cycle with straight hot water and more Synthrapol. This can be repeated one more time if the rinse water isn’t coming out clear. Once all the unfixed dye is out, the dyed cloth will never run again and can be laundered normally.

Dry. I just threw the whole bunch into the dryer and they came out like this:


You should see each one individually in real life. I’m really pleased! Now I just need to iron them all and I’ll be ready to cut out my quilt squares. (Not that I can use scissors or even a rotary cutter at the moment. Boo-hoo.) I also have a couple of flannelette sheets to sandwich in between for extra warmth. I’ll leave them white because only a little will show at the rag edges and it will give a nice contrast to the colours. If you haven’t seen rag quilts, here’s one tutorial and there are lots more. Easy-peasy.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Aitch. Eee. Double-Hockey-Sticks.

Man! Yesterday had to rate as one of the worst days ever. It was so bad that I’m truly glad it’s now today instead. Just so it’s not still yesterday. Horrible.

Oh, you’re curious, huh? What’s got ol’ damselfly’s tail in a knot? Well, appointments with Dr. Serious Dermatologist are uncomfortable at the best of times. But this time I was running late, scooting along on my bicycle and…caught my skirt between the back brake and the tire rim. Took me several minutes to get free and tore a hole in my skirt. Finally got to the dr’s office and his receptionist was away. No, he doesn’t have a sub. He just carries on by himself. So it was “slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am”: stop this, restart that, do the other, here’s your prescriptions, call if there’s a problem, ‘bye. Any questions from me were given short shrift. Why does he insist I only have palmo-plantar (hands and feet) psoriasis when obviously it’s covering about 2/3 of my body? And it doesn’t resemble anything I can find in my research. He actually said, “Everyone’s psoriasis is different.” Ohhh-kayyyy. Is he covering up that he doesn’t really know what’s going on?

So then I had to go to one particular pharmacy to get a refill on the black tar since they’re the only ones in town who can make it for me. It took much too long so I had to leave for my next appointment at the skin care centre. I would have to go back later for the prescription. The skin care centre was interesting. Everyone was friendly. But…I was examined by a young dermatologist and he called in a resident and they debated and questioned and checked and double-checked and…said that I should not get light therapy right now. My condition was too sensitive. It would be too painful. They questioned the treatment ordered by Dr Serious and really scratched their heads over me. They finally weren’t even sure whether or not I really had psoriasis! The first doc said he would talk to Dr Serious and then I have to find out if any treatment should change. But of course nobody could get through yesterday if the lovely Erika was away sick leaving nobody to answer the phone. I still haven’t called. I’m too upset still.

Then I went back to get my tar at the first pharmacy plus I had two more prescriptions to fill at my usual pharmacy. Of course they couldn’t fill them right away because they always have to order the stuff in so I still have to go get them later on today. The only good thing was that by then I was starving so I bought myself a yummy Beard Papa chocolate éclair and a cup of jasmine tea. Unfortunately that didn’t really help me feel any better about the day’s frustrations and disappointments. And that’s not all. There’s more!

So I rode my bike home all tired and dejected and was right at the corner where my house is when I miscalculated the turn at the curb and missed the ramp up. Thankfully I was nearly stopped by then but my bike fell over with me not able to get my foot down in time so I fell under it. I couldn’t lift the bike off myself because that darned precious battery is so heavy so I had to crawl out from under it. I scratched up both myself and poor Rideau (the bike) but luckily not too badly. Much of my skin is rather fragile these days, as you might imagine. Now I had a torn skirt and a road rash behind my knee to go with it. At least I was only a few feet from home. And I’m not leaving again until I absolutely have to. No, it was not a very good day at all.

So far today is better. The sun is out and it’s not too hot. Let’s talk about something else, shall we? Because the lack of it was driving me nuts, I did a teensy bit of knitting on Sunday and a bit more on Tuesday. I used the Aurelia superwash wool that I had spun up for Andrea:

Superwash Yarn

I decided that I needed to knit something that didn’t have a specific yardage necessary since I only have this single 50g ball to work with. So I started with 3 stitches and am knitting mindless garter stitch, increasing 1 stitch with a yarnover one stitch inside each edge on each row. So far it looks like this:


It’s a little scarflet and is coming out kind of a boomerang shape which I like a lot. I’ll just carry on until I nearly run out of yarn and then bind off. If I want to, I can always knit or crochet an edging on later with another yarn. Should be superwash too though, shouldn’t it? Maybe add some beads? Right now though I’m not knitting any more until my fingers are healed some, hopefully now that I’m not taking that nasty med anymore that caused them to peel so badly. I already had to cut longer fingers on a new pair of gloves because they weren’t protected enough with the short old ones. Just the tips of my fingers stick out from these and I can’t tension my yarn properly. Sigh. But at least my hands are more comfortable.

Now I’m going to go put on my gardening gloves and play in the dirt.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Segue Dyeing

At least that’s what I call it! My Spectrum Group met on Thursday to play with a new dye technique that one of our members recently learned. You start with balls of yarn, as many as you need for your project. In this case I used 50g balls of sock yarn: 2 white Phildar Preface and 2 medium gray DGB Confetti for two different dye sequences which will become 2 pairs of socks.

There was some debate about the balls. I left them in the commercially-wound state that they came in, just removing the ball bands. Some tried balls (or cakes) wound on a ball winder. One fine silk cake had a cardboard tube in the centre that kind of mushed up (technical term!) while the dyeing went on but it helped to keep the yarn from getting impossibly tangled. And some tried old-fashioned hand-wound balls, which in my opinion worked best of all. I’ll explain why in a bit.

After putting down plastic on Jo Anne’s deck under the awning, we each took a 4-litre (gallon) ice-cream bucket or something similar and filled with a couple of inches of hot tap water. It was supposed to be enough to cover the balls but I discovered that less worked better. Strong dye stocks using acid dyes (1 tsp to 350 ml hot water) and acetic acid (1/2 tsp 56% or 1/8 c vinegar) were already mixed in containers. We added a tablespoon or two to the bucket and then plopped in the balls.

Now came the tedious part:  you had to take the ends of the two balls together, squeegee them off between your gloved fingers and drop them, each into its own small container. Pull, squeegee, drop. Pull, squeegee, drop. Over and over until you thought that you had enough of that colour. Then add another couple of tbsp of the next colour and repeat the pull/squeegee/drop thing until you got sick of that one. Continue adding colours and unwinding the ball until you run out of yarn, hopefully more or less at the same time with each ball. This is what my second batch that I finished at home looked like near the end:


It doesn’t look terribly exciting, huh? That’s the gray yarn though and it’s hard to see the variegations when it’s wet. How about this?


Better? Turns out the effect improves vastly when it’s dry! But you can’t really tell while you’re in the middle of doing it. T. D. Us. When you’ve finally gotten the two yarns all dropped into their containers, then you have to carefully bag them up either in cling wrap or Ziplocs (partially unzipped to let the steam out) and steam for 20 minutes or microwave for several short bursts with a rest between each to set the dye. After the yarn cools it can be wound on a niddy-noddy (a PVC one or an old one that doesn’t mind the wet), then rinsed and allowed to dry. The first sequence that I did on white yarn looked like this when I was half-finished the winding:


That spaghetti actually wound up pretty easily as long as I didn’t mess with it too much. The old towel is to absorb the drips. And here’s the final dried yarn:


To see the way the colours actually segue here’s the yarns stretched out:

Gradation1 Gradation2

Now when I knit socks from the first yarn they will segue (yup, that word again!) from the turquoise at the cuffs to the green at the toes and no repeats in the sequence. And similarly with the second yarn from the blue-gray through to the brown.

OK, what would I do differently next time? The commercially-wound balls are looser especially in the centre and that gave the dye a greater chance of penetrating to the centre sooner than I wished. It meant that the later colours were more influenced by the colours that came before them and that it was harder to shift them as they got darker from the layers of dye. That’s why the first colours are lightest, both because they were in the dye for a short time and because they only had one colour applied. So tightly hand-wound balls are better. A tighter ball doesn’t let the colour penetrate so easily so you can have quite different colours from one end to the other, ones that aren’t nearly so “layered” and mixed. Theoretically you could even go back to the first colour again or repeat the sequence more than once if you were careful not to add too much dye each time. Though of course hand-winding the balls adds another step to an already extremely slow process.

Speaking of slow, if I had moved more slowly at the beginning and given the dye more time to set in the yarn, I would have had a deeper starting colour. Also, I added the next colour too soon before I had wound off very much yarn. Since it’s such a glacial process it felt like a much longer portion of the balls than it was! In other words, be patient. Be very patient.

Altogether, it took between one and two hours to wind off the whole 210 yards in each ball! Each and every yard has to go through your fingers and sometimes it’s difficult to separate them into their individual containers smoothly. And yes, they need to be separated or you’ll have a mess when you try to wind them up into a skein later. Plus you have to stop and add more dye every so often which also takes time to do. Did I say: T. D. Us? And it would be worse the more balls you were trying to deal with at once. Note this is not a potential production process! (Unless you could find a way to mechanize it somehow?) For me, it’s strictly for the unusual results only.

Admittedly, slow as it might be this is a reasonably functional way, besides spinning the yarn from scratch, to get the colours to shift over the whole length of the ball of yarn. And to do it to more than one ball at the same time if you want. Pretty slick really. However the proof of whether it’s actually worth all the effort will be in the finished socks. When I’m able to knit socks again.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Things Are Looking Up

Well, somewhat. At least I’ve stopped coughing quite so much, my voice is nearly normal and I have some energy. Yay! Now if I could stop peeling all my skin off it would be lovely. The danger is trying to do too much too soon. Especially because I am so danged far behind on everything.

Milady Daughter (and Alien!) came over on Saturday and we had a lovely day chatting and dyeing with my woad. This time we got the best and darkest blue I’ve ever seen from woad. Gorgeous.


That is only two dips each! On the left is the first skein and the right is the second one which is still impressively dark, if a little uneven. They’re both 100g of 2-ply laceweight merino from a large cone purchased at Birkeland Bros some time ago. We got that strong depth of colour plus I also dyed 125g of my Perendale roving and still got a fairly good blue – about the colour of my cotton scarf from the last woad session. We probably could have dyed even more if we’d wanted light blue but I have lots from past woad baths. I figure there’s more where this came from, so I dumped it. That’s 325g of dyed wool from about 750g of leaves. Not bad at all! And it continues to grow in the dye garden.

Today I tackled the coreopsis which hadn’t yet been picked. There were lots of flowers, of which this is just a detail shot:


I love the configuration of my new dye garden because I was able to get a chair and sit in front of the plants and pick comfortably for quite a long time. I can reach about 2/3 of the way into the bed and there is some space behind to move the chair in to pick the rest. I got an ice-cream bucket full:


Now they’re drying on bamboo mats on the big table on the deck. They take up a lot less room after they’re dried.

I also noticed that some of my weld is starting to bolt even though this is only its first year and it’s pretty little still because it was late getting planted. Since I’ve never grown it before, I’m not familiar with it’s tricks so I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing. See the one at the top-left?


I will wait to see if the flowers develop and start going to seed. That’s the time to harvest apparently. I was all prepared to wait until next year, but if it wants to give me something to play with now, I’m not going to argue! However I’m hoping they all don’t bolt right away so there will be something to try next year as a full-sized plant. Otherwise I’ll be back to square one. Hmmm…maybe I can can get some new and more viable seeds from this to start next spring? And I know not to cover them because they like light to germinate. Here’s a great old botanical illustration:


Reseda luteola