Chitchat and the occasional in-depth analysis about fiber, knitting, spinning, crochet, cooking, feminism, self-image, and a modicum of personal blathering.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Straw into gold

I belong to a casual online spinning guild via yahoo groups. The current project is spinning flax, and the process plus my personal wonderment at the historical development of the whole idea of getting fiber then yarn then clothing from this very unlikely looking plant is something I find fascinating, so I went for it.

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So I got some of both kinds of flax, because I wanted to try both.

Flax comes in, basically, two preparations. Tow flax or roving, which is the shorter fibers of flax that have been combed away from the long fibers, and the long fibers, line flax or strick. The long fibers are very long indeed. I'm not ready to try that kind yet. I spun up about five and a half ounces of the flax roving last week, though, and was pleased with the results.

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That's the roving, and you can see why blonde children are called "towheads". It looks like a child's blonde hair. The strick looks like a long, stick-straight blonde ponytail.

There's a step in the processing that causes the color to be either silver-grey or blonde, so depending on what color your flax fiber is, you can tell something about how it's been processed. One of the steps in flax processing is "retting" or rotting, letting the woody stems rot away from the long fibers inside. If the flax plants are simply laid in the dewy grass for a week or two to ret them, the fiber comes up silver-grey. If they're laid in a stream or pond (or child's swimming pool as is common in backyard flax processing) then they come out blonde. The blonde is more common these days.

At any rate, flax must be spun wet and it takes a bit of a different technique than spinning a protein based fiber or cotton. I liked it much better than cotton.

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The fibers are longer than cotton, and you wet the fingers of the hand controlling the twist as you spin. In the olden days, they often did this by wetting a thumb with saliva, but I used a shot glass with water in it. I didn't want to get the fibers in my mouth, and frankly the thought of spitting all over my yarn kinda grossed me out a little.

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My Mazurka handled it nicely. I used the larger setting on the smaller whorl, spun it double drive but slowly with a lot of control and not a lot of pull-in. You have to go slowly, as it's a lot harder to go back and even it out with the flax. Much easier with wool or alpaca or even cotton. Once that fiber sticks together, it's stuck. I did spin it with z twist in the singles.

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It looks twiny as you spin it, and it's very hard to the touch because the water activates a coating on the fibers that causes it to bond together and be nice and smooth. It doesn't have to be plied, but it can be. I didn't trust my spinning technique enough to leave it unplied so I made a two-ply yarn from it. I switched over to the larger whorl but left it on double drive since my single drive band is broken and I was feeling too lazy to try to recreate it, plus I wanted to see if it was even possible to get the double band on the larger whorl. It was, but barely, and I don't think I want to do that very much as I'll end up either losing the band or breaking something on the wheel.

I ended up with almost 320 yards. It's hard to tell what weight the yarn is, I think it's between a DK and a sportweight.

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There's my trusty shot glass of water.

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It's very shiny and pretty. It's a bit hard, but is supposed to soften after being washed a time or two. I will probably use it to make washcloths for holiday gifts or face scrubbers or something along those lines.

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There isn't any kind of rush though.

I'm anxious to try the strick soon, but need to do more research on preparing it for spinning. Apparently, if you do it wrong, you end up with a snarly mess and I don't want to waste such beautiful fiber.

I also finally, after a year and a half of having this camera, started to read the owner's manual. So with any luck the quality of my photographs will finally start to come up. Here's some more of the flax, which made an excellent "what's THIS button do?" model and which may now properly be called "Linen".

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Until next time...

Monday, March 23, 2009

What condition my condition is in

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That's a blast from my past. A wooden escalator inside Macy's downtown store. I remember riding on this escalator; when I was a little kid and this store was Kaufmann's, they had the Santa village on the 12th floor and those escalators were in use. They aren't any more-as far as I know, the 12th floor is all storage and stuff now. Still, kinda cool, kinda creepy. And beautiful, in a way.

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(the other direction)

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Those are phone pictures, by the way.

It's been a rather boring week. I've been knitting on the sweater, spinning flax, and making small progress on the green socks.

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It's starting to look like something! I can also illustrate the yarn I'm using and how it makes the piece a bit more unique. The yarn is Ironstone Flake Cotton, and I think it's discontinued so I damn well better have enough. (According to the pattern, I have about 200 yards more than enough, but I still worry.) It's a cotton yarn with a slub feature to it, which makes it more forgiving and a bit more interesting, IMO anyway.

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See the slubs? And now, see the slubs in the knitted fabric?

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It's an effect I like.

I'm part of an online spinning guild that is pretty informal. Knowing me if it were more organized, I'd not be in it because I just don't have patience for doing group projects etc. any more. The current project is spinning flax. For those who don't know, flax is where linen fabric comes from. I've been wanting to grow some flax and see if I can manage to process it, but that's going to be a couple of years off. Still something interesting to look forward to doing. I ended up buying some flax roving and line flax from an online vendor (paradise fibers) and have been spinning the roving. It's VERY different from wool and cotton. Nothing like anything I've spun before. It's much easier than cotton to spin. The "tow" flax, or roving, is shorter fibers arranged in a roving format, and the line or "strick" flax is continuous fibers up to 3 feet long arranged in a smooth "ponytail" that will spin very fine, but that I am not ready for yet. I'm enjoying getting the feel of the fiber, though, using the roving, and I'm anxious to see how the finished yarn comes out. Pictures next week, probably, as I don't have enough to show on it and it doesn't look like much anyway.

Yesterday, Bob and I worked in the yard a lot. The past two years of neglect are being reversed, slowly slowly but progress none the less. I decided to "de-debris" the side and back flower beds around the house and here is what I found.

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Pretty blue flowers. I can't remember what they're called.

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Hostas peeking up above the surface. "Is it safe to come out yet?" These are the "Grandiflora" type. Spectacular in bloom.

The rose of sharon, while pretty, was getting invasive along the side and I had to pull or dig up or cut down a lot of it. I lost a lot of my plantings, too, but not everything.

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That's a view of the shady garden area along the back of the house. The yarrow and daffodils and star of bethlehem are doing very well. Too well, I think. But I'm not going to worry too much about it right now.

And the peonies are of course fine.
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Beds I didn't get to yet also had surprises in store.

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Hooray for Crocuses.

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Daylilies coming up already!

These tulips were hiding under a dormant yarrow.
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And my favorite-
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the first daffodils of the year. It's hard to be pessimistic in the face of that much sunny goodwill.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Second quick hit of the week

The comment section on this blog is not a debate zone, nor a place to air your grievances about other websites. Randomly aired grievances will be deleted. Please keep your mess in your own backyard.

Thanks in advance.

Monday, March 16, 2009

They grow it in the farmlands and they take it to the stores

So it's been a strange sort of week. I am late posting today because I had an eye exam. It's been two years plus of being increasingly unhappy with my glasses so it was time to get new ones. It's a new eye doctor this time, recommended by a co-worker, and these are the frames I'm getting.

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I kinda wanted a more retro looking pair but they were all either too big, too small, or too expensive. The Sophia Loren frames look great on me, though, and with all the discounts weren't even that expensive.

Here's a rare bit of food photos.
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That's a prime rib roast (small one, only three bones) and a yorkshire pudding, my first. It was very easy to make, and I'll definitely make it again if I ever again make a ridiculously indulgent piece of meat like a standing rib roast again. Bob actually bought it not knowing what it was and it was so huge that I cut it into two pieces.

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The "pudding" is a sort of custardy thing. For those of us unfamiliar with it, you mix flour, milk (or beer, apparently) and eggs with the pan drippings and bake. It was yummy.

In knitting, I started on an actual sweater.

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The pattern is called Decimal and it's from the latest Knitty. I loved it as soon as I saw it because they actually modeled it on a plus model as well as a thin model. And I had yarn in my stash that would work for it.

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Doesn't look like much yet. I have so little patience any more though. I did finish my roundabout socks, and will hopefully have photos of them soon.

Today, I walked around Ikea after the eye doctor because my eyes were all dilated and I couldn't see very well. Got a plate of swedish meatballs and then walked around the store and bought some little stuff. I could spend thousands in Ikea, easily. All the things they have are so cute and clever. If we ever end up with enough money to redo our kitchen for real, I want it from Ikea. They had a model kitchen there that was, seriously, the size of mine and it was gorgeous. And not all that expensive, less than $2000. But still more than we can afford right now. I love walking around in there, though, and looking at all the stuff. I did get a french press coffee pot for work, as my electric pot is a mess and needs to be thrown out.

Phone is going well-I'm still learning my way around it. The photo of the glasses is a phone photo. It's a combination of weird and fun being able to text people now.

I have a lot on my mind but no time or energy to blog about it. Maybe later in the week. I kinda wore myself out today, so going to work tomorrow is not assured. If I stay home, maybe I'll write out some more stuff that I have been thinking.

It was nice driving around today, seeing the new green starting to come out. There's still some leftover dull dead green here and there, and the new green feels like a refreshing breeze across the landscape. Little shoots on bushes and trees, bits of grass and undergrowth, and tiny tips of tulip and daffodil leaves in the yard. Makes me feel better, a little.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quick Hit

Here's a Clue By Four for those who whine about "Free Speech Rights" on websites that they don't own.

YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH ON A PRIVATELY OWNED WEBSITE.

You also do not have a constitutionally mandated "right" to free speech in much of the rest of the world, or had you forgotten that America is not the only country?

Organizing small-scale DNS attacks or other organized acts of weenietude against websites that you claim have denied you these non-existent rights WILL get you banned.

Get over yourselves. Seriously. Go knit something.

Monday, March 09, 2009

It's a wonder I can think at all

New week, same lazy attitude.

I have no motivation to get anything done. Laundry awaits, the carpet needs vacuuming, and I should surely finish spinning this alpaca fiber, yet here I sit, doing nonsense on the computer, updating my project pages on Ravelry , uploading pictures, playing with my new phone and learning how to connect it to the computer and do stuff with it.

The phone angst of last week was resolved, thank goodness. I made the considerable mistake of ordering a new phone from the Sprint website. Now, I've been a customer of Sprint for about 8 years now, mostly happy ones. But never again will I order a phone I cannot hold in my hand. The phone I got (for "free") was the size of a brick and twice as ugly. Apparently it was one of the original blackberry phones, which made it older than the phone I was upgrading! I went to the store on Wednesday and spent some time with a lovely young man named Andrew who made everything right again, and left with this phone, in purple. It's awesome.

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In crafts, I've been spinning still and working on my matching/not matching socks when I'm on transit. The sock pattern is "roundabout socks" and it's mindless, attractive, and fast to work up. Since I'm going toe-up on mine, I did a bit of a picot bind-off so they wouldn't be too tight. I also snuck an increase into the second sock, which will be dedicated to puffyleg.

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Finished spinning the BFL I mentioned last week. I did some things a bit differently with this fiber. When I took it out to decide how to spin it, I didn't really like the possibilities. The straight color sequence didn't make any sense, so splitting lengthwise and trying to maintain the color changes wasn't an option. I looked at it, folded it, rolled it up into a ball, and finally split it out three ways, since it seemed like there were three distinct "themes" going on in the roving.

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I called it "Begonias, Easter Eggs, and Crayolas". After playing around with that split for some time, I decided to split the thirds lengthwise into pencil roving sized strips and roll into balls. Spinning the "crayolas" came out like this.

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Unfortunately, I was too much of a doofus to take photos of the other two balls as they were being spun too which in retrospect would have been a really good idea. But anyway, here's the finished product.

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This is pre-washing, it's very curly still. That settled down somewhat after a good bath and thwacking.

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So that's about it in my crafting world this week. I started spinning up some of the loose alpaca fiber again, it's a pain though because I have to hand-card it then spin it and it gets crud all over the carpet. I might put that back away until the weather is good enough to spin outside again. I'm sure the birds would love random alpaca fluff for their nests, and I would love not having the carpet where I'm spinning look like a terrible accident at a fiber mill.

I've still got the ear crud and sinus crud going on to some extent. Not nearly as bad as it was, though. Like I said above, I've been sleeping a lot. I think that helps.

Oh, the phone takes some pretty decent pictures, too.

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That's a detail of a downtown building. One of my favorites.

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I just love Pittsburgh architecture, and it will be nice to be able to get halfway decent pictures that I can actually remove from the phone and put on the computer. It does videos too, but I haven't quite figured out how to send them to youtube via the phone. I think I can just upload them to the computer and then send them to youtube from there. One thing at a time.

Making yummy beef vegetable soup for dinner tonight. After an unseasonably warm weekend, we're back in the 40s here so it's appropriate for the weather.

Edit. Huh. Not very good video, but hey.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Monday, March 02, 2009

But I don't listen to her 'cause my head is like a sieve.

This week has been a tremendous week of FAIL.

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I managed to go to work on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, then the earache became too much. I could not get an appointment with my regular doctor until Friday, so I stayed home Thursday and Friday because it just hurt too much and I was right on the edge of being dizzy the whole time. (I say WAS but I actually still AM.) The prognosis was ear infection, and I left with many prescriptions. Antibiotics, vicodin, and nasonex. And a refill on my giant ibuprofen, which I can take along with the vicodin. The pain is really extreme. Dr. F explained that-apparently the nerve that controls the whole side of the face and head and into the neck goes right through the ear canal, and my ear canal is very inflamed so it feels like my teeth are falling out, my cheekbone is bulging, my neck is about to implode, and my ear itself about to ex-plode in a gory gush of goo. It's good to know it only feels that way, and there's actually nothing going on beyond an ear infection. Except being unable to sleep because the FIERY SPIKES IN MY HEAD start up again about every four hours.
It's better today, but not gone by any means.

So I've been spinning a lot while I've been off. I am not motivated to knit at all. Poor Bob. His sweater languishes in a project bag while I merrily dance about in heaps of yummy blue-faced leicester and falkland. I spun up Cosy's falkland fiber that I got a couple of weeks ago.

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It did not feel that soft while I was spinning it, but holy cats, it is as soft as could be. A smooshy, squishy kind of soft, not a silky kind. Hard to explain, but amazing.

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133 yards of a 3 ply aran weight. Will make a nice hat for someone. Maybe one of my kids. I don't know. I can't think beyond the wool right now, and that is different for me.

In an effort to spin a MEGASKEIN of sock yarn, I started with almost six ounces of fiber. The Fire Lizard fiber I got at the knit expo.

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Here are two of the three plies-the top bobbin is the merino/tencel blend and the bottom one is the BFL. Nice full bobbins. I expected a nice yardage of yarn.

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Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. I ended up with about 340 yards of three ply sportweight. I don't get it. But it's some dense, compact yarn with amazing sheen. I think the BFL is a more "compact" fiber than other kinds, at least that's what I read on a ravelry forum.

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Pretty, isn't it?

I'm currently spinning the six ounces of multicolored BFL that I got at the same place. I'm going for thin, and I did some experimenting with the way I'm splitting up the colors so we'll see how that turns out. I think it's probably a good thing that I'm a process spinner. I enjoy the act of spinning more than the finished yarn most of the time. Anyway, hopefully there will be photos of that soon.

Got a new phone today-it is very confusing and makes me feel impossibly old and unable to handle technology. I might actually take it back to the sprint store. It's over my head. But I'll wait a couple days and see if I can get the hang of it.

Other than that, I'm just trying to heal up and rest as much as possible. The house is a mess and needs to be vacuumed. The laundry isn't done. I've been doing a good deal of interesting cooking and I think Bob appreciates that. Hopefully I'll make it to work at some point this week. Fortunately, my caseload is pretty well under control, except for the filing and that's just a matter of finding time to do it.

Well, off to get that laundry finished, and hopefully get a good night's sleep tonight. That's half the trouble, I think, is that I'm just not sleeping well.