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.