Sunday, January 25, 2015

Silk on a stormy day


Scarf-fine merino wool woven on a silk weft.
 Nothing quite beats a lazy Sunday. It's snowing and windy outside so that's a great excuse not to venture outdoors. And so I get to weave on my first and quite lovely silk warp. I'm using some merino I picked up from my Stitch N' Bitche's destash table and the weave is Rambling Rose from Marguerite Porter Davison. To a weaver that's a "W" and a half to form a lovely little pattern. The weaving is going great and silk is lovely to use. I just need to "snug" the warp into place--no beating necessary. I've also learned how to "read" the pattern as I go, so I'm not making treadling errors.  This is a new step in my evolution as a weaver. I'm really happy with this latest winter scarf!

Silk sliver by the kilo.
I found a place where I can buy silk by the kilo--Georgia Yarn Company. I'm showing the kilo of silk sliver I just purchase for dyeing and blending with wool.  I previously purchased a kilo of natural mulberry silk 22/2 skeins.  These are lovely, but I need to dye them.  I still need to work on my dyeing technique because silk can be a little tricky. I've learned that I should soak the silk in the dye adjutants before adding the dye and heat.  I need to heat it to below 185 degrees F and let it simmer for 60 minutes. This will take a bit of scientific method to use up some of my acid fast dyes, but I'm up for the challenge. I'm just waiting for the warmer weather as my dye studio is in the garage!

Giving the sturdy Ashford Scholar a whirl.
I've been spinning a merino/bamboo blend on the Scholar, a sturdy little wheel I purchased years ago with the idea of taking it with me camping. I haven't done that yet but it is a trooper for traveling to guild meetings and more.  I was able to fit it with the high speed whirl for the Kiwi, and being a "vigorous" treadler, I have no trouble getting a nice thin yarn. I'm expecting this to be about 14 wraps per inch, depending of course how much the yarn "poofs" once it goes through finishing.

It's been a nice day to get things done. I'm also making food ahead--a big pot of spaghetti sauce, meatballs and some low-fat spinach lasagna. So of course, I have a glass of red wine at my side, with Rigoletto playing in the background. I don't attempt cooking Italian without the correct mood being set. I need to dig deep into my roots to get the right flavorings.

All in all, it's a wonderful, snug day at the Craftstead.  Stuff is getting done and relaxation is happening. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Warping barbell

Warping barbell adds tension while beaming.
Seems like I'm finding lots of new uses for my exercise equipment these days. Shown above is what I've dubbed a Warping Barbell. This consists of my leg weights suspended at the ends of an inch thick dowel. I was trying to thing of some way to tension my warp when I hit on this idea. It's along the same lines as the warping trapeze Laura Fry talks about but without the need to attach something to the ceiling or build a big frame. The 10 pound weights keep the device in place and it does help provide a nice even tension.

I'm very happy wit this and plan to use it regularly.  I also enjoy re-purposing exercise equipment for weaving. Leg weights are also great for weighting a beater when doing something like rugs. And don't use this like a barbell as the weights fall off.  The warp, by the way, is yak. I was going to make a yak down scarf over winter break but it turned out to be a too delicate warp. I save the ruined warp for needlepoint.

26 oz of Wild Iris super bulky rug yarn.
 My plan to spin a pound of fiber a month is well on it's way with 26 oz of rug yarn completed. The Coopworth counts as "deep stash" as my friend Beth gave me the roving when she was destashing. I've dyed it Wild Iris. It helps a lot that I'm spinning super bulky rug yarn. Later this year, I intend to get a lot of rug weaving done and move stash from my closet to the floors. So far, so good!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Weaving meets Yoga



Yoga blocks come in handy in the studio.
I've taken up Svaroopa Yoga, a gentle practice that helps loosen up tight spots in the hips and lower back from too much sitting and tension.  I take classes but also follow a home practice, called the Magic 4. This eases my lower back and aligns my chakras (energy centers) and leaves my body and mind relaxed and freed to pursuit my many interests. I feel the practice, by opening and aligning my chakras, improves the flow of creativity and squeezes out left over stress from the week.

Overshot block design with handspun alpaca warp and silk& kid mohair weft.

Yoga blocks were the perfect prop for leveling the shafts on the Loomcraft. I've decided to use a 4 shaft tie up on it for its next several projects and having my yoga items in the studio proved exceptionally handy.  As you know, I hate crawling under the loom to do tie up, but a careful selection of yoga blankets and a blanket roll made for comfy work under the loom! I was really happy because I got the tie up set up in no time while being comfortable. Good thing I keep my yoga gear in this "half-studio."  I have one-half of the family room where we keep our TV and bookshelves so it is also a place to relax and maybe move along with an exercise DVD.

Leclerc Fanny warped with overshot block scarf.
Happily, I finished a scarf I began just two weeks ago over Christmas break. It has a hand spun alpaca warp and a commercially prepared warp of silk, kid mohair and glitter. The resulting scarf is luxuriously soft and just in time for some sub-zero temperatures. I'm kind of proud that this is also the fastest project I've done so far on the loom! It was on and off inside of two weeks.

Now to wind some more warps, and get to work on the big throw project....

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A long goodbye


Losing my father-in-law the day before Thanksgiving has been a slow-burn experience.  First, the stunned realization and the acceptance that had already been growing there--he was 98 at the time and had been moved to a care facility for the last year or so. The workers there really cared and it was good to know that someone noticed he was slipping away and was with him to hold his hand for those last moments.

To be honest, I've been sad about it for some time. Sad when we left the house my husband had grown up in knowing it would be sold in a month, knowing we would never be back, knowing it would never be quite the same.  The sadness started when my mother-in-law passed six years before. Elva was an avid naturalist and knew every bird and every plant in her neighborhood. We loved walking with her with a pair of binoculars up a road. Of course, we had to keep up with her.  She was hardy to nearly the end.

And for many years, so was my father-in-law. Ira had lived in his small north country town all of his life, and he had stories that stretched back to earlier years. Funny stories, touching stories, lots and lots of stories. He had been very active in his community--he was one of the charter members of the local volunteer fire department, was fire chief for many years, was a grand master at his Masonic Lodge, was a school board member,  attended Town Board meetings to voice his views when it was necessary. He was a respected member of his community.  I can see where my husband got his own interest in local politics.

In my thirty years of marriage, I knew both my in-laws as retired people. Early on, if they weren't off square dancing, they were playing mahjong or cross-country skiing or off in the woods on one of their many foraging expeditions. Elva and Ira knew where every sort of edible plant was. They were out "stalking the wild asparagus" and Elva's botanical skills were the basis of healthy eating and living.

I'm glad to have known them while they were still young.  We went cross-country skiing with them, took many long hikes and they taught us to play mahjong. We had many late nights up playing with them! We lived much closer back then and we would visit or stop in. For awhile, we took turns taking each other out to lunch--we would find an interesting town half-way and pick a restaurant. They visited us in Connecticut where we lived, but usually we would head north.  It was so peaceful in that little town that each visit was a respite from our busy lives.

Elva and Ira were an interesting couple--they traveled a lot and we had a chance to hear about their visits--crossing the Arctic Circle on a local steamer in Norway, taking an Audubon tour in Alaska or cruising on the Danube. They spent their 60th anniversary in Venice. They were young for most of the years I knew them, and it wasn't until the past decade that the years began to make their inevitable claim.

I will never forget our last Thanksgiving with Elva at the Cambridge Inn a few months before she died. She'd been failing, but that day she was her old self, smiling and gracious and happy.  It was a good memory of happier times.  After she left, Ira held up pretty well, but the years were crowding in on him. We went from sitting with him in the evening listening to his stories over a glass of Scotch served in a jelly jar with one ice cube, to watching him fall asleep in front of the Weather Channel.  We went from going out and about the mountains, taking walks and stopping for a nice lunch, to just a drive around the block.

Then the time came for a care facility, and Ted's sister found a beautiful one overlooking the Atlantic near her home in Maine. It had a nice homey feel, including a fireplace so he could sit in his wheel chair and doze, something he enjoyed. The place was clean and bright and he wasn't alone his last few moments.

It is the end of an era for my husband and I.  We miss both of them deeply.  We've been missing them during the long years of slipping away.  But we will always have them with us, and all the lessons we learned from them. For me they are lessons about loving the outdoors, staying fit and really living those elder years doing what you enjoy.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Little suburb near the prairie

Improved studio area in portion of family room.

We were busy around the house this weekend and re-arranged some furniture--hard work for the middle aged.  We have a long family room so I managed to squeeze two looms--the 27" Fanny and the 30" 8 shaft Loomcraft into new spaces that will take advantage of the natural, southern-exposure light of the family room.  I really like the way this has turned out.  Now I just have to weave there.

But today we took a seven mile walk on an 1800 acre restored prairie not far from my home.  The vistas were gorgeous--there were long periods of no sign of civilization. Rolling hills and trees blocked development that has spread into the cornfields of Illinois.  We have restored prairie just a a few blocks from our home.

It's a good time to be grateful to the Universe for plopping us here in this particular suburb so close to so many really nice natural areas. In just a few blocks in the other direction, we reach a long swath of riparian habitat that has been saved and restored.  Riparian refers to along the river and these habitats are vital for the survival of lots of species and I've seen beaver and other critters down in the "woods" and an amazing number of migrating birds. And, of course, the Great Horned Owl. I love hearing it hoot at night near my house, thanks to lots of green space provided in planning neighborhoods.

I am thankful for green space. And I'm trying my best to create a non-toxic environment on my own small plot of suburb.  We've successfully grown some nice prairie flowers but next year I want to go one step further. I have a large area in the back yard to devote to milkweed, bee balm and other plants to help bees and butterflies survive the harsh conditions civilization has created.

I have a special love for the Monarch Butterfly who has suffered from our predation on their habitat.  It is only a small backyard, but I figure, every back yard helps. And the front yard too! That is where we've had the most success with prairie plants like blue false indigo, goldenrod, yellow and purple coneflower, aster and more.  I want to expand that too. It is super pretty in summer and a few more feet would be nice.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ouch!

Carpal tunnel surgery

This is what my hand looked like about a month ago. It was two weeks after carpal tunnel release surgery and just before I had my stitches out. It looked worse before this.  Getting the stitches out was a giant relief because the tightness kept me from using my hand freely. Yes it hurt--not horribly but more annoyingly. In the long run, it was worth is though as my hand no longer goes numb. I've had trouble with carpal tunnel for years--decades in fact--perhaps dating back to my journalism days when I'd be up till all hours typing like a madwoman. Now my life, in contrast, is leisurely.

I have what one person told me was the "old-fashioned" kind of surgery, which means the type perfected in the last decade or so. Now they are using lasers and such, but I figured I should get what is tried and true. Now that the swelling is down and my palm is starting to look almost normal the difference is amazing.  No hand going numb at inconvenient times. I have lots of exercises to do (and I do them with both hands) and all kinds of stuff I need to do to get rid of the scar--vitamin E oil palm massages and this special kind of strip I wear over it at night that is supposed to get rid of the scar. You can get these at the drugstore.
Cormo dyed deep green was untouched for weeks.
The worst part of this was not being able to do anything fibery for several weeks. I did try to spin a bit toward the end, but it was awful. I had to wait for the stitches to be out. And then it took a bit to get my strength back up so the spinning went nicely.

 I did catch up on my reading and my friend Beth brought me her copy of the classic Keep Me Warm One Night Burnam & Burnam's out of print book about traditional weaving in Canada prior to the Industrial Revolution. It is a beautiful book and absolutely fascinating.  And then I'm working on my Master's so I did some reading for that too. Unfortunately it isn't a Masters in Fine Art because the university where I work doesn't have that, But I think Management and Organization Behavior can come in handy, especially when I have time to volunteer for weaving groups.

So this is why I've been missing from my blog for so long. Once I got use of my hand back, I've managed to do some spinning, but generally I had to play catch up--for one I had to write a paper for school. There hasn't been much going on with the looms either. I do have plans to move things around studio wise, but I'll save more of that for later.

The surgery really wasn't that bad. It was the stir crazy of not being able to use my hand that was the worst. It was the pain of unthinkingly picking something up with the bad hand that was unpleasant. The palm is still a bit sore, making yoga not so great, but all of that is going away, slowly but surely.  My major exercise has been walking, and in the past month I've managed to walk 140+ miles, which isn't bad. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fellowship of the Lard

Walking is my favorite exercise, so it is not a stretch that I'm attracted to anything that includes walking as part of the activity--like walking meditation. I had made a commitment to myself to incorporate walking meditation into my life. Plus I would get out in the fresh air, feel the wind on my face and those dried autumn leaves crunching under my feet.

Weaving and my other favored activities are indoor things--unless it is a beautiful day and I can bring a spinning wheel or knitting outside. But I love being outside rain, snow or shine--which is why the gym didn't work out for me--too noisy, too monotonous, too inside. So when I read Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh's description of walking meditation I thought this was a good fit for me. Walk and breath in nourishment or healing, let each step touch the earth and let anxiety slide out with every step--that kind of thing.

But what's all this about walking to Mordor? Isn't that the Lord of the Rings or something? Well, yes. On Wednesday I was trolling around Ravelry, the online community for the fiber obsessed, when I came upon this challenge to walk from Hobbiton to Mordor and back--a 6,893 mile round trip, which has the potential of taking me nearly four years if I average 5 miles per day--which is about what gives me the 10,000 steps for a healthy heart.

Ouch! Completely crazy right? But I'm such a geek, I went out that very day to purchase new batteries for my pedometers--a 2.6 mile walk to the drugstore and back. I put the battery in at the drug store and then off I went home to log into the group Anti-Lard Alliance and sign up for the challenge.  I wanted to know how far I was walking! I was already planning to add the two miles I know I walked the day before!

There is an excellent spread sheet created by group member MeganMME that details the entire journey so I can see where I am. Right now, I'm 10.5 miles away from Hobbiton--and the last good view of "home" was 1.5 miles behind me.

I'm a few weeks behind most of the Fellowship since the challenge started in September. But I have time to catch up. And I still don't know if treadling my loom will register on the pedometer as steps!