Sunday, December 18, 2011

What is with that music?

Falalalala--giant Poinsettia    
Considering all the beautiful music written for this season it is pretty sick that we are stuck listening to Rudolf and Jingle Bell Rock in the stores and restaurants.  This jolly drivel is enough to make me run out to the street screaming.  Even the Irish pub didn't have the decency to pop in a few CD's with some instrumental Christmas Carols played on Celtic Harp.  Oh, no, stores and restaurants alike blast  "Hideous Holiday Music Streaming Radio" and subject their customers to migraine inducing trash. Trust me, I would much prefer to do my Yule shopping to the strains of Silent Night or Carol of the Bells.

Brings out the Grinch in me. Though I did break down and purchase a 4 foot pre-lit tree that fits our favorite decorations and packs in up in one piece. This by the way, is a genuine sign of aging--in my youth I'd laugh at aging friends and relatives who didn't get a full-sized tree. But now the laugh is on me! This tree is such a lazy thing I don't even need to artistically drape the base: it  has a pretty pot it sits in with blinking red and green star-bursts. I found it at my local Ace since I refuse to enter a box store this time of year.  I've also sent off my handmade gifts created to the strains of Mozart and Vivaldi instead of purchased under the influence of the country version of Frosty.  What have we done to the Yuletide?

But I won't let the Pac-Man Consumerism ruin the specialness of this time of year!  Or the gift part.  We are stacking our Yule gifts under the coffee-table with the pointsettia.  Under the plant you can see a pile of used LeClerc rag shuttles I purchased on E-Bay.  I opened them because of the return policy. 

Lovely aren't they?  I can use them for weaving my handspun blankets and rugs. I have other rag shuttles, but I've decided LeClerc's are the best, made with the care and quality one finds in products from the Deep North. Some of them are really old and well-used but still in great condition.  Yep: quality.  Yep, I am a fan of LeClerc looms, and I'm saving up for a LeClerc 8-harness Compact to replace the Schacht I bought.  Maybe next Yultide I'll find one under the coffee table!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Down with the Bah Hum-bug

I finished and tested this yoga rug this week and it is great of standing poses!
"Seems like we just put the tree away," the DH observed and I have to agree.  It doesn't seem all that long ago that we wrestled the decorations back into the storage box in the basement.  Do we really want to go through all that bother again?
Just finished this handspun, handwoven rug.

This, dear reader, is just another sign of aging.  The Bah Hum-bug, is, like creaky knees and greying hair, a sure sign you reached the top of the hill and are hiking down the other side.  I never thought I would ever think like this, but I'm fairly certain a good-sized pointsettia would make a fine tree stand-in. 
This is many yards of kid mohair.  I need to count it again.
  Despite embracing the inner grinch, projects are reaching completion, including a gift or two.  I'm up to bookmark number three on that warp I put on last week, so I'm happy.  I've also finished up a few projects that have nothing to do with the holidays, like finishing the rugs I cut off the loom last week, and winding off all that plied kid mohair I started spinning in August.  Plus, the holiday is the perfect excuse for a little baking. There are some traditions I'm not about to shirk.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

'Tis the Season to be Manic

I'm making this hat for my sister.
Will we be putting up the Tree today? Ted asked me this in the morning before my first cup of coffee. So he got a grunt instead of "Falalalala-lalalala!" because I was stumbling around without my contacts and I'd forgotten it was December already.
Cutting off this giant warp seemed a better use of my time.

A few bars of "Falala" will be my standard answer to all holiday related inquiries this year--you know the usual ones about whether I've finished shopping, baking, decorating whatever. I'm just not in the mood to be manic about doing the holidays. I don't want to turn my home into a tinsel and glitter light show any more than I wanted to run out to a big box store to be pepper sprayed by some moron over a cheesy electronic gadget. Yep. Bah Humbug!

I started weaving bookmarks as little gifts.

Sorry people.  I'm sitting this one out. I'm not putting on a little bow and being a Miss Pacman Consumer Robot and join the throngs in orgy of consumer debt. Oh, I plan to have fun. We'll do lunch in our cute little downtown and visit a few local stores, but I'm not going nuts.  The tradition in my home is small gifts for family. As for each other, my husband and I set modest budgets for our hobbies so we can get some of the things we want. We'll put them under the tree if we get around to putting it up.  We are old enough now to have forgotten enough of the contents to be a little surprised.



Sunday, November 27, 2011

Slow Cloth gets a boost!

A picture of my copy.
Slow Cloth has received a big boost in Deb Robson and Carol Ekarius' new book The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, More than 200 Fibers from Animal to Spun Yarn, published by Storey, the publisher who brings us all the books about raising sheep and other animals.  Deb Robson is more familiar to fiberfolk as former editor of Spin-Off, but to those of us stuck in apartments and suburban track housing who dream of hilly green fields populated with sheep, Carol Ekarius is familiar to us for her Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep. Together, these knowledgeable veterans are a powerhouse and the book they wrote together more than delivers.

Fiber folk: put this book on your holiday wish list or just call up your independent book seller or yarn store and see if they have it in.  I found mine at Battenkill Books in Cambridge, New York, where I was for the last holiday, and where I often am as that's where I'm from. This is prime sheep country and some of my favorite fleece is produced there (but I may be a little biased!)

The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook is not only filled with lovely fibery pictures of sheep and fleece but lots of information that is well-written and enjoyable to read.  This book can feed your fiber longings for a long, long time and will definitely be my go-to book for information on numerous breeds of sheep and other fiber critters after I've read it cover to cover. This is the book for fiberfolk everywhere, who like foodies and their heritage tomatoes, want fabulous heritage fleece to spin and knit or weave with joy.

I hope this book helps bring an end to the current fascination with those over-processed rovings from overseas  (and worse superwash) and open greater interest in local, sustainably grown, uncovered fleece.  Maybe we'll be seeing more painted roving that come from local sheep and local small mills.  That's what I'll be looking for. Maybe more people will embrace Slow Cloth as a way of life.   

Just to mention, I was in Battenkill Books with my sister-in-law to pick up a copy of Jenna Woginrich's book Barnheart.  Jenna has a farm down the road and not only raises Scottish Blackface sheep, chickens and other critters but has a day-job and is a prolific author.  I didn't reserve a copy, but I know I'll be back there to pick up a book--but I think I'll ask my own local bookstore to get me a copy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Get pie with a little help from a friend

I had a little help with my pumpkin pie.

Pie crust and I haven't gotten along for several years. I blame it on incessant dieting. Somewhere during a “low-fat” binge I lost my knack for making a decent pie crust. I tried to regain it but ended out wasting a lot of otherwise good ingredients. So here I am running to the Pillsbury Dough Boy for help! He's a friendly and helpful little guy, providing pie crusts ready to unroll onto the pie plate.

The rest of the pumpkin pie was made the old fashioned way with real pumpkin cut up and roasted in the oven in a pan of water until softened. I went newfangled again when I scooped the pumpkin out of the skin and put it in the food processor. It didn't blend so I added three eggs to puree it. Then I made my pie. Here is the recipe for extra spicy pumpkin pie:

3 cups (about) of pumpkin puree
3 extra large free range eggs
1 cup of organic sugar
1 cup of heavy cream
2 tsp of ginger
¾ tsp of cloves
2 tsp of cinnamon.
Blend until smooth and pour into a pie crust of your choosing.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the custard is set.

This tastes really good. I usually don't like pumpkin pie because it seems bland, but this one has a lot of zing. Okay, I should mention I don't measure my spices all that often, so some pies have more zing than others. You may also notice I gave up on that low fat thing.

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Microwave popcorn with a twist

This corn on the cob was popped in the microwave.
What was I thinking?  All these years I've been buying microwave popcorn and it never occurred to me that all I had to do was throw a handful of corn kernels into a paper bag, crumple it closed and zap it for about 2 minutes, depending, and voila! microwave popcorn.  Consumer robot that I am, I thought I had to buy it in a special bag with great fake butter flavor and too much salt.  For the past 20 years I've paid a premium for a very inexpensive product.  If I add to that all the broken popcorn makers, for the times I decided to save money, and then remove the cost of plain popcorn and some paper bags, then it's downright embarrassing how much money I've wasted. If I spent about $100 a year on microwave popcorn (not impossible considering all the single serving bags I've squandered money on during my many "diets". ) That would be $2,000 just enough to get that LeClerc Compact loom I've been thinking of.  It is amazing how dependent I can be on gimmicks.

Those ears of dark red corn were grown by the Maple Park farmers at my farmer's market. You put an ear in a paper bag and nuke it for about 2 minutes (you know the drill about waiting and listening to make sure it is popped).  Most of the corn popped right off the cob, but some of it stayed on creating "corn-on-the-cob popcorn" which you have to eat that way.  The popcorn was delicious--so fresh and flavorful it didn't need butter or salt or whatever that fake slimy stuff is that lines the bottom of microwave popcorn bags.

Color choices for placemats.
I'm also planning placemats for my fine china.  The pattern we purchased is a little whimsical, and it complements the antique china the dish is sitting on.  The two different china's work together quite nicely and now I would like to make some nice placemats to go with them. The dishes have a strong spring/summer theme. I have some cotton/linen yarn in a bright green, and some viscose bamboo in glowing gold.  With a green warp and gold weft and a nice pattern, I could have something interesting for the table.  And the bamboo is handspun, making it that much more special. What do you think?  I'm looking forward to working on this on the big loom once the rugs are done. Soon, I hope.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When alpaca looks like broccoli

Freshly picked green-dyed alpaca.
Weekends just aren't long enough.  Someone should find a way to cram some extra time in--it doesn't have to be a whole day.  An extra morning would do.  My weekend started with the farmers market--well actually, it started with me drinking coffee and doodling with this blog page.  I came home from the farmers market loaded down with a half bushel each of broccoli, spinach and peppers and spent hours getting them ready for the freezer.  That's a lot of broccoli, so when I look at that alpaca picture, it looks to me just like broccoli.

Today, my whole day was spent out in the garden "putting it to bed" for the winter.  That's another reason the green alpaca looks like broccoli to me.  We went through lots of  plants picking off the last of the peppers and the last of the beans, getting it all ready. Ted dragged home 25 bags of topsoil--we are creating raised beds--but we still have a ways to go.  By spring we should have more compost to fill it in. With all that, I didn't get to my weaving.

No time for weaving this weekend.

I did redo this blog page and added a bunch of tabs.  This includes some of the articles I've written about spinning and carding from my old website.  I'm migrating everything over to this site.  I know it may be a little cheesy, but I added a donation button too. I mean you never know when some millionaire happens upon this site in a generous mood--like maybe Melinda Gates will decide to take up spinning and find my site when looking for tips.  Of course, the donations are not tax-deductible but they will go to furthering the Craftsteading cause. I plan to investigate and write more tips and ideas for people interested in fiber pursuits and provide them in this blog and on this page.

If you hit the "Craftsteading" Tab, you will find a definition of what Craftsteading is.  I would like my readers to leave comments on that page and tell me about how they Craftstead.  I would love to feature my reader's work--talk about some of the beautiful things you are all making!  So please leave a comment!

Monday, October 31, 2011


Looking down the length of my new workbench.
Happy dance time:  I have a brand new 8 foot long workbench!  It is build on a metal frame Ted found at Menard's.  The top is an inexpensive 8 foot piece of kitchen counter top I picked up at Home Depot. Total cost of the project was under $150, so it is pretty doable.  In the picture below you can see that I have room underneath it for an old dresser and some of those ubiquitous plastic storage containers. There is only one overhead cabinet so far--a door-less reject from having the kitchen redone.  I plan to add inexpensive cabinets when I find some on sale down the road.

The new bench is a relief because it opens up the workshop.  I have the big table on the other side, though now it is covered by a table loom.  One of my long-term goals is to get a small studio loom.  I would like the 24 inch 8 harness LeClerc Compact.  It folds nicely and I have space for it opened or closed.  I would then sell my 20 inch 8 harness table loom to free the table to make way for other projects--like jewelry making, project planning and sewing. And writing a book, though I can do that from my easy chair.

There's room for stuff underneath.
I took today as a personal day and it is a crisp, clear perfect morning.  Walking around in the backyard there was a certain softness to the day, a bit of mist hanging in the light of the morning sun.  I saw a sharp shinned hawk try to snag a squirrel.  The squirrel would have nothing of it and challenged the hawk aggressively.  When the hawk took a place on a fence and tried to look nonchalant, the squirrel went on the offensive.  He climbed the fence and made himself big by curling up his tail and hunching his back--a squirrel version of what cats do--and challenged and pestered the hawk until he flew away.  This squirrel was not letting down his guard or taking any chances because scampering away up a tree is not going to help him against an air assault.  He had to face the hawk head on.  I admire that spunk and perseverance.  There's always something to learn from nature.  Use what you have to chase off predators and don't give up even if they seem stronger than you.

I checked on the Cornell site and that may have been a Cooper's Hawk--a very similar looking bird to the Sharp Shinned but bigger.  Of course, hawks vary in size with the female being bigger than the male, so it's tough to gage, but the hawk I saw was on the big side but I didn't have my binoculars to check out tail roundness etc. . My only clue is that it was going after a mammal, a trait Cornell attributes to Cooper's Hawks and not Sharp-Shinned.  Also, like Sharp-Shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks have moved to the suburbs to enjoy all the easy bird feeder meals.

A white crowned sparrow was jumping around in the cover of the giant non-flowering broccoli plants in our garden.  I suppose he was finding something to eat to refuel as he continues his trip south. I should have asked him what the North Country was like this summer but he was pretty busy bouncing around.  The giant plants at least provide cover for the little guy.  I doubt a hawk could find a way down in there.  We will be winterizing the garden soon and planning for the next season.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Early Birds can catch more than worms.

Finished a towel before work today!
I was up early this morning and I was able to finish the first towel on this warp.  Above, you can see the towel and some of my experimenting with the tie up on this Schacht table loom.  I have one of the older looms and the tie up has a few issues, so I've added a gizmo I found at JoAnn's to see if I can come up with an improvement.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Heart of Craftsteading

Dried beans from my garden. I grew two varieties of pole beans.
Craftsteading is a lifestyle choice, much like homesteading.  Unlike homesteading, one isn't likely to have a hog growing in the backyard, or five acres of wheat.  Instead one will find a house overflowing with tools and projects--crafts of every sort flowing out.  It shares the self-sustaining bent of homesteading, though not toward growing all one's own food.  Craftsteading is the sustainable, do-it-yourself lifestyle for the city or suburban dweller. It's great for people with small lots, lot of zoning regulations, or a brown thumb.

A sign of being a craftsteader is having craft-type items fill up the house--and I certainly have that.  My husband has a workshop in the basement and I've overtaken two spare bedrooms with my looms and other craft materials.  There's a spinning wheel in the living room and there tends to be fleece in the family room if I happen to be picking one while watching TV.  Otherwise I have a knitting project there. I have my dyeing operation out in the garage and below, you can see some linen/cotton yarn I dyed today for some placemats.
This natural linen and cotton yarn was dyed green for placemats.
If we are overrun by a zombie apocalypse, being able to weave one's own linens and spin lovely yarns will not be as handy a skill as growing food.  It will take years for people in a zombie eclipsed world to run through all the clothing already stuffed in their closets.  We have so much stuff in our consumer culture that it's ridiculous.

I think that's why I like the idea of slow cloth. It takes a long time to go from fiber to yarn to cloth--much longer than it takes to work the hours, even at minimum wage, to earn the money to fill a shopping cart with cheap machine-made imported goods.  But there is that certain satisfaction of having something handmade, and designed to suit one's needs.  I'm sure it's a very similar satisfaction as having one's table filled with food you've grown yourself.

But just as I can't grow all my own food, I can't make everything myself.  As a city dweller, there's that trade-off.  I've definitely made the handmade pledge and now eat off of handmade pottery.  The bowl the beans are in was made by an artisan in Vermont.

Another facet of craftsteading is trying to find food grown as sustainably, locally and organic as possible--and therefore supporting small farmers and homesteaders.  Fortunately, through my local farmers market here in Naperville, I've found a good supply of sustainably grown vegetables and meats.  Since I've taken the no-factory-farm pledge, we are lucky to have Yuppie Hill Farm and the Hometown Sausage Kitchen visiting regularly. Hometown Sausage Kitchen is new, a chef turned entrepreneur has worked with local farmer(s) to grow sustainably grown Berkshire pork and now heritage grass fed beef for those who would like to eat meat sometimes, but not from animals grown in prison and fed noxious hormones.  Being a chef, he has created some excellent sausages, as well as providing well thought out cuts of meat. This make me quite happy because next week I'll be picking up ground pork to make my own secret family recipe Italian sausage for the Thanksgiving lasagna.  Yes, lasagna is a traditional Thanksgiving dish--at least in my family!
I also dyed some alpaca red today
Craftsteading is my life.  Of course, there is the day job, but afterwards, I get to come home and craft away.  I've been dyeing some alpaca for a throw I want to make.  I have this idea of a multicolored warp and a weft in that lovely chestnut brown alpaca fleece I purchased recently.  I think it should be gorgeous! At least it looks that way in my head.  The hard part is getting it to come out that way on the loom.

The other aspect of craftsteading is growing at least some of my own food.  I try, but my garden was so-so this year.  At the top of this blog, you can see some dried beans that were supposed to be green beans. Well, we tended to leave our green beans on the vine too long so they were tough and bitter.  I decided to go ahead and let them finish the "bean" process.  This winter, I think I will cook some of these up and see how they turn out when served with pasta, one of my favorite vegetarian meals.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Weaving complexity

This book is opening my eyes to weaving's possibilities.

Weaving should be able to keep me engaged and challenged for many years to come.  That's why I got started with it some time ago, but now that I'm reading Sharon Alderman's Mastering Weave Structures, I'm realizing just how wonderful an art it is. And I'm only on page 32! I've already learned interesting things about weaving and know I will not just read, but study this book.  I plan to do a more formal review down the road, but the book is already opening my eyes and inspiring me.

One of the things I started to do is dig through yarn bequeathed to me by former loom owners. I purchased two looms from people who were giving up weaving and both came with a sizeable stash of mystery yarn. I was able to figure out that all the yarn surrounding the book above is 8/2 cotton.  I can see quite a few towels on the horizon!

My little Schacht table loom, which I have name Milly, will be busy.  With a 20 inch weaving width and rug warp on the big Leclerc, Milly is the perfect choice for my towel ambitions.  I have a few ideas for some interesting towel warps with all that stuff.  I really enjoy the small loom.  Now that it's warped it is easy to stop in and weave a few pics.  I'm enjoying the straight twill structure too.

Craftsteading has never been so good!  Well, the garden part of it is almost over and to be honest, it wasn't as productive as it should have been. We have broccoli that has grown big and strong but has yet to flower!  Thank goodness for the Farmer's Market because without them we'd be stuck with the supermarket.  We have locally grown potatoes to store, and I bought a bunch of the summer's last peppers, summer squash and tomatoes to make one last batch of my favorite summery food mess--essentially a mixture of all of the above with some olive oil, garlic, hot pepper and basil to spice it up. This can be served over pasta or with crusty bread--whatever you have on hand at your craftstead. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Weaving Joy!

Warped and weaving.
Despite being outwitted by warp gremlins, and needing to patch a couple of threading errors, I can finally start to weave.  Above is the start of my first towel using mystery fibers that came with one of my looms--mostly 8/2 cotton, maybe a little linen in one of them.  I was able to get a nice twill pattern together as you can see above.  I still have more to deal with:  keeping the selvedges nice, beating evenly so I get the right number of pics per inch.  I think I started out a little skimpy in that department, but It's my first towel and I'll get it down by the time I'm finished this 12 foot warp.

Perseverance has got to be the single most important attribute for the weaver.  I learned that over and over again as I struggled to get all that twisty warp on.  It was just a matter of time and voila, the fun part begins as I weave along and watch the pattern form.  I am looking forward to using these towels.  Yes, using them.  As a craftsteader, part of my crafting is to make my own useful, yet lovely items.  And also, once I weave all of this, I can get more yarn.  I'd like to make some holiday towels too!  And there's my giant placemat project, but more about that later.

My loom from the back: nice neat threads.

Above is the back of my loom.  You can see all the threads so nice and neat going into the heddles.  Yep, I got them all to obey my commands! Muwahahaha!  I'm quite happy with this. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gremlins 2 , Craftsteader 0

I was threading when I realized the Warp Gremlins tricked me after all.
So, whose keeping score?  I think the Warp Gremlins are, and they are laughing their heads off right now.  You may remember from last week's episode, my elaborate ploy to fool the Warp Gremlins by tricking them to the other side of the room with a tasty craft brewed beer so they wouldn't snarl my warp as I wound it on.  Never fear, the Gremlins got me anyway. I just didn't realize it until a week later.

As I wound the warp, I forgot to add the sticks you need to pack it.  Can't believe it, but I really and truly did that.  I hang my head in shame and add it to my upcoming book Five-hundred Weaving Mistakes to Learn From.

Okay so maybe the beer distracted me as well as the Warp Gremlins.  Gremlins 1, Craftsteader, 0.
What was I thinking? This isn't enough space between rug projects!

The next dumb thing I did was start a new project too close to an existing project on a warp.  Gremlins 2, Craftsteader, 0. Those of you who weave know that you can put on a warp and use it for several projects--and this is especially so with the rug warp seen above.  I don't know what I was thinking really, but there is definitely not enough space between the end of one rug and the beginning of the next.  It would have been fine for kitchen towels, but not rugs.  What I will do is unweave all the handspun rug yarn, advance the loom, and weave some of the ugly spacer yarn and then start again.  All the rest can be taken out when I cut the projects off the loom.

So that is two mistakes in one week.  Three in two if you include the warp that had to be thrown out. Gremlins 3, Craftsteader 0.

But this is just the top of the first inning and I have a plan to fix the errors on both my looms! So, Gremlins, you haven't won yet!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Appeasing the Warp Gremlins

A good dark beer can distract Warp Gremlins from their usual mischief.

Anyone who has been weaving for some time can tell you that warp is an opinionated beast.  Sometimes it goes along with you and winds on smooth and even and other times it just becomes an unfathomable tangle of snarls and weird tangles.  If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that just last week I had to abandon an entire towel warp to the bin of doom (a.k.a. waste basket in my workshop).
Here's my warp, draped and ready to be wound on the back beam.

I soon realized my error: I had failed to appease the Warp Gremlins.  These are the little guys who encourage your warp to twist and tangle and do some really odd things with the lease sticks—No matter how careful you are some chunk of warp has a way of not being in the lease stick.  How can that happen when the sticks are tied at the ends?

I considered the mischievous character of my Warp Gremlin population and decided the best way to appease them was with a decent bottle of porter.  I poured it out and took a sip (this is to shows the gremlins it is safe to drink) and left it on the other side of the room on my carder before I began winding on the warp.  I did this casual like, knowing that the tasty beer would catch their attention and keep them occupied.  It worked for a bit but they have short attention spans, especially after a little beer.  Snarls, twisting strands and a bit of warp that escaped the lease sticks began to plague me.
A good swig of the beer helps make the gremlins behave.  Providing a snack is a nice touch too.

I then sighed loudly saying, “I'll never get this warp on, I'll just go drink that beer.”  I had a pretty good swig of it, before turning back to the warp. This scares the Warp Gremlins into thinking you're going to drink all the beer so they run back across the room and stop jumping around on your warp.  And so I had a yard more of winding peace until they started up again. Fortunately, my husband came in with a plate of cheese and crackers for a snack. I put a morsel out for the gremlins, and with his help, I was able to wind on more warp.
Here you can see the mischief my gremlins were up to.
Eventually it did get finished but it wasn't easy. You can see in the photo in the one bit of warp that jumped out of the lease sticks (my friend Beth made these from dowels and I've been working with them.  They are pretty slick.) But the warp is on and now I can start threading the loom.  And the beer was nice too.  Baxter, my personal assistant, scarfed up the cheese and cracker morsel.  He doesn't mind the gremlin nibbles, he's a dog after all.
At the top of the picture you can find a bit of warp that managed to escape the lease sticks.
And so goes my story and I'm sticking to it. A good beer makes winding on warp so much easier, with the added benefit of distracting the Warp Gremlins. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Happy and Warped

This will be a pillow to go with the yoga mat.

The yoga mat is woven, but it's still on the loom.  I've decided to conserve warp by rolling it onto the cloth beam and continuing on.  I'm using up leftovers here, and this will be a pillow the width of the yoga mat.  Whereas the mat was plain weave, this time, I'm weaving a rosepath pattern so the weft packs in. It will be nice a cushy and if I add more padding it should be perfect for my head or for sitting on.  I want to make some yoga blankets too, but first I need to finish this warp! I like the way the colorful yarn looks woven.  I'll have to rememeber that when designing yarns for future projects.

Here's another  picture!

Oh, and that Dr. Bronner's soap didn't clean the Icelandic fleece to my liking, so I'm rewashing it in the Trader's Joe cruelty free laundry detergent.  I like that it has lavender in it, so it leaves the fleece with a lovely scent.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Not Doing that Again!

Salvaged one fleece worth of fiber out of six bags.

Note to self:  Never, ever purchase six bags of mystery fleece from a shepherd who is getting rid of them for a friend, no matter how cheap you can get them for.  Especially if these fleeces are stuffed in feed bags because that, likely, is your first clue.

Every so often I do this sort of thing--try to rescue some fleece or another.  Sometimes it works out okay, other times it ends out in the trash.  This is probably my worst "fleece rescue" operation.  So what could be wrong with six Hampshire fleeces?  Oh lots.

I suspect these fellows were not field raised.  I suspect they spent a good part of their lives in a smallish, muddy paddock eating grain and hay.  Why do I suspect this?  There's lots of dirt in the fleece, likely from standing out in mud during downpours.  The fleece was just pure yuck. I was able to save some of it, but not much, and this required a pair of heavy duty scissors to pretty much shear the yucky tips off.  I was left with maybe 4 inch staples from something that was eight.  Not really bad.  I think I have a few pounds--a small fleece's worth.

I might have been able to salvage more, but I have a limit to how much trouble I will go to for wool.  And as a salvadge operation, considering what I was starting with, this really wasn't too bad.  I should have taken a picture of what they looked like, but they were just too ugly.

Argh, I can still taste sheep, and I had to wash my hands 5 times in dawn to get the sheep smell out, even though I was wearing gloves.  Now that's fairly serious sheep. Okay, so I got to play farmer with stinky fleeces, I'm ready for craftsteading again.

Oh, and that Dr. Bronner's soap did not clean the lovely Icelandic Fleece I purchased--even though it was a fairly ungreasy fleece. I'll be sending it through again with something stronger.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Equinox and Fruit O' the Loom

Fruit O' the Loom
Happy First Day of Autumn everyone!  I'm enjoying a day at home doing crafty sorts of things.  As a Craftsteader, the Equinox doesn't involve quite the flurry of activity a Homesteader might run into.  My garden is pretty small, and even with the added bonus of squash growing out of my compost heap, it's not like I'm out there digging up potatoes.

But I did have a harvest of sorts to celebrate today--I finished weaving and was able to cut this length of cloth off the loom.  It is pure handspun and I'm making a pillow. Purchased the filling today and Joanne's and I plan to start the finishing soon.

Two of the Hampshires I purchased were a little dissappointing.  I ended out skirting them with scissors.  Which means, basically, that I cut off the matted tips and kept the nice clean stuff underneath. It's a good thing it has such a long staple length because with the tips off, I still have a good four or five inches of nice stuff to spin.  Tomorrow, I'll work on the rest of them and take some pics so you can join in the fun.  My husband negotiated a great deal on them, so it's not too bad.  I'm getting some nice wool out of it.

I'm going to get back to Craftsteading.  I'm making real progress on the yoga mat I'm weaving!  I hope to have something to show soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lopi dreams, Hampshire heaven, big trouble

Gypsy, an Icelandic fleece from Hedgegrove Farm, Le Moille, IL.

My favorite kind of fiber fair is the small local one, like Fiber in the Park in Earlville this weekend.  Cozy, friendly, completely local and with plenty of fiber for everyone.  You know from past posts I don't need to go to Rhinebeck to fill my car with fiber.  Lovely Icelandic fleeces were readily available at the Hedgegrove Farm booth staffed by Michael Bates, a friendly and informative shepherd. (You can find him through Local Harvest).

I was admiring his fleece realizing I have yet to spin Icelandic wool, except maybe maybe at a guild event,  and all I could think of was combs and heavy leather gloves to keep me from impaling myself.  I don't own combs for the same reason I don't needle felt.  I'm a klutz when it comes to crafting with sharp objects.  I muttered something about carding it and an attentive Mr. Bates said the magic word "Lopi" and I could see myself sitting at my Lendrum filling the giant bobbin with lovely lightly spun singles and making a really cool Icelandic sweater.  Which of course led me to buy two fleeces.  One is from Feta, who came along and was very friendly, so I had to buy her fleece.  And the one above which has some brown, and I can dye some of it for a pretty yoke.

This is where I got in trouble.
 Two fleeces is a pretty good haul for any fiber festival, but I had my husband with me, and Hedgegrove Farm happened to have a pile of unskirted Hampshire fleeces a shepherd friend gave him to get rid of.  I was kind of interested in just one, but I was also sort of distracted by the other fleeces.  Ted is the business type who enjoys negotiating and in buying Gypsy and Feta we ended out with six bags filled with Hampshire.  Now this is one of the down breeds of sheep, and the wool has a springy, crimpy hand.  It is quite soft, dyes well and many people love it for  socks.  The beautiful thing about this particular Hampshire is the six to seven inch staple length!  The stuff is lovely!

But it needs work, including skirting.  I've set up a skirting table in the garage and I will be getting to it after work tomorrow.  Craftsteading has never been so good!

Tomatoes and zucchini from the farmers market.

On the same Saturday, we stopped by the Farmers Market where I picked up two pecks of plum tomatoes from my favorite farm from Maple Park, IL.  That was enough to make two big pots of pasta sauce. One was a peck of tomatoes and mushroom marina, and above is my special recipe tomatoes, zucchini and pepper pasta sauce.  The freezer if filling up with the flavor of summer.  I also had enough to make a big vat of tomato, zucchini and black bean chili!

This is Feta: gray Icelandic with colorful yoke?
 I said goodbye to my 36 inch, counterbalance four-harness loom today as it was packed into a little red sedan bound for Oklahoma.  I'm glad she'll have a new good home and will continue to produce lovely cloth.  Plus, I've learned something important: yes, you can have too many looms!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Can ripe toamtoes survive chipmunk connoiseurs?

To pick or not to pick? I picked.
Fresh tomatoes! We've all heard people opine about the wonders of growing your own and the sublime experience of chomping on a tomato that is at its peak of freshness.  The herd of chipmunks in my back yard are sure to agree with this wholeheartedly, and they do wait for that lovely moment of peak freshness. The problem is, this peak appears to occur in the middle of the day while I'm at work. I've found more than one half eaten gorgeously fresh tomato lying on the ground.

Which is why I'm faced regularly with picking my tomatoes just ahead of their  becoming fare for my chipmunk connoisseurs..  I gave up on the heirloom varieties last year when every last one of them was snapped up by one of those endearing critters or drilled into by a bird.  I just do plum tomatoes as can be seen in my picture.  They work great in all my recipes.  I've had a good run on ripe tomatoes, but I've learned to be careful not to leave them out too long, especially now they are growing scarce.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Weavers frog too!

I'm weaving a yoga mat from my handspun.

Joy is what weaving feels like.  Even when I have to frog a few rows because I see a glaring mistake.  Yep, just like knitters, weavers can frog too, except it's more like unweaving and it doesn't make the satisfying "rip-it" sound that unraveling knitwear has if you listen very closely.  It is drowned out by the sighs of the weaver.

This rug is woven on linen rug warp at 5 dents per inch.  Originally threaded for a warp faced weave, I decided to use up some grey Wensleydale, and some multidyed strands of four ply as a plain weave.  So the warp is still showing, but the end result will be flexible and lightweight yet cushy and I'm hoping it will provide the same grip for standing yoga poses as rubber mats do. We shall see.  Either way, I really like the way it's coming out, and as I write this I have about two feet woven.  The colors are a four ply, one each of turquoise, red, green and purple, all from a Rambouillet cross I purchased at Elihu Farm in Valley Falls, New York.  The Wensleydale comes from Homestead Acres Farm up near Door County, Wisconsin.

My loom is a four shaft 60" LeClerc Nylus II.

There's my loom as you see it when you walk into the little room I call my studio.  The sixty inch width is a bit beyond my wingspan, but I know I can comfortably weave up to four feet wide, especially if I keep up with my yoga and remain flexible.  I know I bought this loom a couple of years ago and haven't wove on it.  I think I had bad fengshui with too many looms crowded in all over. I found a buyer for my 36" LeClerc Fanny who I know will love and appreciate the loom.  That was a great loom to work on but I also love the big gal too.  And I'm finally weaving on her.  I want to make some really pretty throws, using luxury fibers like Alpaca, and maybe kid mohair.  I've just scoped out some nice handspun Alpaca yarn stash to use on a "trial run" blanket.  I think I'll make a camelid yoga blanket to go with my yoga rug. This will ensure maximum flexibility for future weaving enjoyment.

The garden is doing well.

With all this, there's still the garden to keep an eye on.  I found all these peppers on a stroll around the yard, and quite a few squash among the compost heap volunteers .  You can see one of those yellow warty ones next to it.   I plan to cook these all together.  I also picked three more acorn squash, a couple of which I will cook tomorrow.  I really enjoy gardening, though I'd like to have seen some better production such as spinach that will actually sprout and grow.  Next year, I will know better!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Weaving Wonderland

A long crafting weekend is just about behind me.  I had a lot of fun making some jewelry with the citrine I showed you last week, but more importantly, I took out my table loom and started winding on a warp.  Here you can see the some handspun llama on the small warping board. Behind it is the Schacht 8 harness table loom. I'll be doing plain weave--more loom than I need for the job.  I wanted to try something simple in two colors. So far, I've successfully wound on the warp and I'm ready to start threading.  The yarn is decently thick, so I'm weaving at six ends per inch and I only have 108 ends to thread. Yeah!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Facebook Follies

I've started a Craftsteader Facebook page.  so if you can go there, please "like" me.  It feels a little odd to have only one like (me) on the page.

Thank you, dear reader.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

No need to travel: Fleece finds me

Meadowsong Alpaca's Thriller arrived at my doorstep this week.
My quest for fabulous fibers to spin has reached the tipping point:  I no longer need to travel to fiber festivals, wonderful fleeces just come my way.  Exhibit A: this lovely fleece from Meadowsong Alpaca's in Michigan.  Diane, of Meadowsong, a quality alpaca grower thoughtfully e-mailed me about a lovely fleece grown by her new boy Thriller.  The photo doesn't really do it justice, which is good because I'd hate to have people swooning while reading this blog on their I-phone or something.  Yep, it's really that lovely.  Honest.

Lovely strings of Citrine nestled in luxury.

To represent the loveliness, I posed a couple of strands of Citrine I purchased a Kasey's Beads in Naperville, hopping to allow this semi-precious stone to reflect the beauty of this precious fleece.  Oh, it sunk right into all that soft, fluffy, spin-able loveliness.  Okay, I'm using too many superlatives. Got it. 

Just to let you know, this fleece is going to be the cornerstone of my hand woven throws made with sustainably grown fiber that will one day be the cornerstone of my Etsy shop, once it opens.  In the meantime, maybe some rally nice Citrine and quartz crystal jewelry?  I love using natural stone because I do believe it imparts some positive energies to the wearer.  Plus, stones will stay nice looking, bright and clean even when worn against the skin.  I'll be working on my Etsy page, my new web page (you can still go to for spinning tips while it's under contruction, and I have a New Facebook page.  It's all under Craftsteader.

More green beans grew overnight.

While my fellow crafters enjoyed a lovely day in Allegan at the fiber festival (I'm not rubbing it in east coast, but mother nature has been merciful this weekend) I was slaving away in the garden, picking and tying up tomatoes, cleaning out the dying squash in the garden proper and finding more and more green beans.  I swear,  a green bean can grow overnight because the ones show in this picture were not there yesterday.

We like to grow sunflowers for the birds.
 Abbondante, is how I would describe the garden.  I can speak Italian now because after all the work and a trip to the bead store and Trader Joes, I sipped an Italian Red they sell called "Bastardo" and listened to Pavarotti cranked up from inside the house.  Okay, I used Google translate, but really it was a fabulous day yesterday with blue skies and enough breeze to keep away ravenous mosquitoes.  Sorry for this mention, my East Coast readers, but we also get a certain share of the wrath of global climate change.  Remember, we had Jim Cantore stationed in Chicago last winter for the thundersnow blizzard.  Though, a blizzard isn't so bad as long as you make it home from work before it gets bad and have stocked up on dark chocolate and red wine.  Plus blizzards bring moisture in the solid form--work to dig out but it doesn't seep. I do feel for you guys.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mystery squash revealed!

016 by Craftsteader
016, a photo by Craftsteader on Flickr.
This squash had been growing out of my compost heap since early summer. As you can see, it has taken over the entire "fence wall corner" behind our shed. I had no idea what kind it was, but it appears to be a winter squash of the acorn variety. I got a look at my first fruit today. I think it is the result of some squash seeds I chucked last year, including possibly a squash that had "gone by.' It is nice to see something growing so well! I am pleased. My zucchini is doing awful. Next year, I'm planting it right here!