Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Three Amigos, Part Three: The Weird Thing

If you looked at my last post, you would have seen the pretty photo I posted just before I went rushing off for my fibre dyeing class on Monday. The truth is, I just popped it up because it was one of my favourite photos and I just wanted to have something to share for Inspiration Mondays.

Now for the weird thing.

On Monday, the Three Amigos went off to Olds College for our Dyeing to Try It class, where we would learn how to dye yarn and roving for the first time. Ever since we'd seen in advertised in the class brochure earlier this spring, we knew were destined to be there. It was fun, fun, fun... and very vinegar-y (it's used to set the dye). I felt what it must be like to be fish and chips.

That's not the weird thing.

We learned how to do rainbow dyeing (where you sprinkle/squirt dye into the yarn as it sits in water in a crock pot), injection dyeing (injecting colour into balls of yarn), we dyed roving in a pot, and we also did some yarn painting and immersion dyeing. My brain was tired by halfway through the afternoon, and it didn't help that I hadn't had much sleep. Luckily, dkzack and Tara were raring to go all day, so I'm sure they picked up any information I might have missed. All in all, we walked away with four skeins of yarn each, and a two foot piece of dyed roving each. We also took home seven, count 'em, SEVEN jars of dye that were mixed up during class and were not being taken home by other class members. We scored well.

So, we drove back to town that evening, and dkzack and I roared off to show our faces at a goodbye party for a friend, while Tara quite sensibly went home to her family. dkzack and I were both exhausted at the end of the night. I barely got my yarn out of its bag to set them up on the counter to finish drying, and then I managed to get showered before crawling into bed.

So, here's the weird thing.

Check out the colours I dyed my yarn.

Now check out the photo I posted the other day. In fact, click on it so you can see it enlarged.

Notice anything?

Blue like the water, purple like the sky, even the russet of the sunrise.

It's not like I didn't dye anything else that day, or that there weren't any other colours available. I helped to dye two yellow and blue/green skeins that Tara and dkzack took home. I elected to take home an undyed one instead. It's like my brain was programmed earlier that day for those colours.


In case you're wondering, that photo was taken at sunrise at a friend's house on Lummi Island in Washington state. We were sleeping in their living room which had a view out to the water. I got up that morning to make a trip to the bathroom, and this is what I saw when I headed back to bed. I knew then and there that that is where I wanted to be. Someday, I will find a home like that.

Until then, I guess I'll live that view out in my yarn.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: No talk today

Short post today because I've got a busy day ahead of me. For now, just check out this view. We'll talk later.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Three Amigos: Episode 2,The Big Shop

Friday was possibly the longest Friday of my life. I usually don't have time to clock-watch, but I'll admit, I was watching the seconds tick past one by one.

I get a message from dkazck. "We're going to Olds tomorrow! I'm SO excited lol."

"Me too!" I said.

On Saturday morning, ten minutes before the scheduled arrival time, dkzack arrived at my front door. Tara was in the car knitting a sock. I'd like to say I was still running around getting things ready to leave, but I was packed and ready to go (apart from a pair of socks and shoes). We were some excited people.

We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to Olds, Alberta, to visit the Merchant Mall at their yearly Fibre Week. We also planned to visit Custom Woolen Mills in Carstairs that day as well. We'd all pretty much blocked off the whole day for this trip.

This was Tara's first time (in fact, the first day I went out for coffee and knitting with Tara, I told her she was coming to Olds), and it was the second time for dkzack and me. I have to say, Tara played it like she was an old hand at the Merchant Mall. The bags of fleece were in her hand way faster that I expected.

dkzack has a more careful shopping-style: the once-over, then second-look, then the purchases... and then, maybe more purchases later.

Me, I'm the mathematician... or so, I'd like to think. I'm adding the grams of fleece in my head, calculating yardage, keeping track of the dollars (or, at least I was for a little while until I decided to just enjoy myself). I'm also the enabler.

dkzack was looking at a bag of silk hankies. "Do you know how to spin these?," she asked.

"Buy it," I said.

"What do you think of the colours in this big ball of Fleece Artist?"

"Buy it."

We found out that day that, since Custom Woolen Mills was at the Merchant Mall this weekend, the mill was actually closed. Tara made the excellent point that that just means we have to do another road trip sometime. When life hands Tara lemons, she makes them into a gin and tonic.

The weirdest thing for me was that it felt like we entered a timewarp while we were in there. When we decided to head off for lunch, we piled all our stuff into the car and headed off to find somewhere to eat. I was informed we had been in there for two hours. "Two hours? No way," I said. It was agreed that we all had entered some kind of yarn-out/blackout state in there. I vaguely remember Tara putting her phone away in her bag after telling her hubby we'd just arrived and that she'd talk to him later... That was the last contact with the outside world I remembered until then.

After lunch, we hit the Merchant Mall again for a final run-through ("What about this?" "Buy it.") Then, we went into town and got some supplies for our upcoming fibre dyeing class on Monday. You've never seen three people get so excited over rubber gloves, I tell you.

So, what did I end up with? A whole lotta spinning supplies:

A pound of Merino roving and a pound of Red California roving.

200g of Merino dyed in Raspberry and 200g of multicoloured Corriedale.

283g of a swirly grey Merino which didn't have a name (but I christened it George when they were labeling it, and that's how they're referring it to now).

A 100g of brown alpaca/silk roving and 100g of black alpaca/Merino roving.

A bag of silk hankies, which are ready to be prepped for spinning.

100g of camel down. Yeah, that's right. Camel down.

An Ashford spindle and a brass tahkli spindle.

Am I a happy spinner?

What do you think?

The tahkli is my first supported spindle, which means I need to find a little cup or something for it to spin on. This morning, I woke up early and started daydreaming about what I could use for its support. I nearly got up and started rooting through my cupboards to find something, but sleepiness soon overtook me and I quite sensibly slept on. That's just another adventure for down the road, I think.

The funniest thing was that I left that big one pound bag of Merino in dkzack's car. I noticed about an hour later when I was putting my things away. With twitchy hands, I phoned Tara, who told me she noticed it in there, then I phoned dkzack and left a slightly high-pitched message on her voicemail. "Umm... I think I left one of my bags of fleece in your trunk... I can wait till Monday..."

She was nice enough to come by later to drop it off. How's that for an understanding friend?

Tomorrow, we get up early and head back to Olds for our fibre dyeing course. The Merchant Mall will still be open. This could get dangerous. If you don't hear from me by Tuesday, send out a search party...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Book Audition

I have a weakness for TV talent shows. If it's got talent, I'll watch it. Remember Star Search? Loved it. I think it's a Filipino-thing - we looooves us some talent shows! Nowadays, I especially love the audition episodes, but not for the ridiculous, humiliating auditions. I truly get a kick out of watching someone who looks like they live next door to you get up on stage and knock people's socks off with an amazing voice, or fantastic dancing, or a great act. It inspires me to know that there are so many people out there with hidden talents. You never know what people will come out with.

Here's where the big link comes in.

I also have a weakness for books. In this day of e-readers (which I think are pretty cool, by the way), I still prefer holding a book in my hand, feeling the pages between my fingers, smelling fresh ink, or even aged paper (ok, kinda fusty paper, but it's a unique smell). I used to be pretty haphazard with my purchase of books. One look at our basement bookshelves and you'll see that both hubby and I love them. We treasure our favourites, and are loathe to give them up.

Since we became homeowners, we've become really frugal with our pennies, and very careful about what we fill our space with. So, we stay away from book fairs and second-hand bookstores. It's just too easy to bring home a bagful of books.

So, we audition them from the library.

I worry about libraries. I worry that they will disappear altogether. I've heard high school students tell me that they do 90 percent of their research on the internet now. I wonder if my own children will know the freedom of walking into a library, browsing the shelves, finding a quiet corner to peruse them, and then taking home any book of their choosing to look after and enjoy for a couple of weeks. To me, a library is a place to enjoy, not just a resource. Maybe they will survive in some other form - perhaps digital, I dunno. Maybe I'm just a dusty traditionalist...

Anyway, any books that I'm even remotely interested in purchasing always get a couple of weeks to prove themselves to me when I get them from the library. When it comes to knitting books, I'm usually only intrigued by a pattern here or there. This week, though, the auditioning has been tough. I've borrowed these four books from the library, and so far, at least three of them are on my "must buy" list. I'm loving how, yet again, there are people out there who are sticking their necks out and showing off their talents, and believe me, there is TONS of talent in these books. I'm not going to go through reviewing them right now. I'm still enjoying paging through them, reading bits of them here and there, savouring them slowly like pieces of hard caramel candies.

Mmmm... candy...

All I have to say is: It's probably a good thing for my bank account that our mail services are on strike right now. It gives me time to set some money aside, and some time to decide how much I really want these books. Do they deserve to go on to the next round? Will they go to Vegas? Will they make the top twenty?

Oy, I really have to get out more.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: Professional Non-cleaning

Imagine rummaging through your dirty laundry basket and finding something that someone didn't want to wash in order to preserve the historical value of it.

Can't really do it, huh?

I follow the blog at the Royal BC Museum, and recently one of the conservators, Colleen Wilson, wrote a post entitled: Dirty Laundry, all about the decisions she has to make as a conservator of linens and the like at Helmcken House, a historical house which once belonged to Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken, a surgeon for the Hudson's Bay Company, who later negotiated the entry of British Columbia as a province of Canada.

Imagine coming to work and trying to decide whether or not to wash a pillowcase. Would the stains be from the doctor's hair oil? What would the starch on a doily tell us about laundering practices back then? What does the dust on a curtain tell us about the attitudes toward smoking indoors of the 1850s?

It's enough to drive a clean freak stark raving mad.

But would they be clean? Wilson writes:
The traces of dye and perfume, not to mention “fabric conditioners” and “optical brighteners” can change colour or interact with older materials unexpectedly, as well as presenting a 21st century version of “clean”.
It's for these reasons that the conservators at the Royal BC Museum have vast knowledge of the effects of water, pH and minerals on antique fabrics. They are not cleaners: they are meticulous scientists, trying to help us to understand the past.

Interesting then, to consider most people's attitudes towards having knitted garments in this day and age. I think that, in this sterile age, one of the reason many people won't wear handknits is the fact that they take care to launder. You can't just throw them in a washing machine with some detergent and set it to warm and walk away. Even a cotton lace shawl requires blocking afterwards to retain its shape. And it's not that you can't wash these items. You just have to know how, and to take the time to do it right.

I am glad to know, however, that there are people like conservators. I kinda wish I knew one. I'd be so interested in the things they know about textiles... and I know I'd probably be one of those annoying people calling them up all the time. "So, how would I wash..."

I'm still going to be laundry, though. I don't think anything of mine is of enough value to preserve in its original "unclean" state. But I sorta feel like the fact that I wear my handknits makes me somewhat of a conservator myself... preserving the ways of the past, and using my knowledge of those fibres to clean them in an appropriate way.

Hand me some rubber gloves, people. I'm makin' history here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Paintin' on a Sunny Afternoon

And I love to live so pleasantly
Live this life of luxury
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
- Sunny Afternoon, The Kinks
Days and days and days of rain... and it's probably not over yet. We were lucky to have some sunshine this afternoon. Rascal is lazing around on the deck, hubby is watching a movie on the History Channel... ahhh...

I had no plans this weekend. I figured I would do a bit of work on some projects in progress, knitting and otherwise, but I woke up this morning with an urge to paint.

I don't paint, in case you were wondering. I do love to play with paint, though.

In my days working at Michaels, I spent a lot of Saturdays on the store floor with projects for kids to do. One of my favourite standbys was painting terracotta pots - cheap, easy to do, and satisfying for the kids. (In case you are wondering, acrylic paint will stain, and I am obliged to tell you after a mom threatened a lawsuit when paint stained her coat... ahem...)

Anyway, I purchased a couple of terracotta pots at the local dollar store a couple of weeks ago. My intent was to use them to hold small balls of handspun yarn for plying. You put the ball under the upside-down pot, thread the yarn through the hole in the bottom, and then attach it to the spindle for plying. They keep the balls of yarn from bouncing around while you concentrate of spinning the spindle.

Originally, I was just going to paint one red and the other blue, just so that I could keep track where each strand of yarn was coming from as I plied. This morning, I went down to the basement to dig out some paintbrushes, and I found some bottles of acrylic paint in various shades of blue, as well as brown, white, and even some metallic gold. This was a bit of a surprise to me, because I thought I'd given away all my paints and paintbrushes in a fit of cleaning last summer. I dug around a bit more and unearthed some cheap artist brushes and sponge brushes.

I washed each pot clean of the pricetags stuck to them. That was a bit of mistake, because it being a rainy morning, it took FOREVER for them to dry. I didn't want to make the mistake of painting damp clay, so after I ate lunch, I popped them each into the oven at 65C/150F for 15 minutes, and that dried them nicely.

Then, I spent the afternoon painting. While I painted, I kept thinking about how long it had been since I'd done this. When had I last worked on something purely on a whim? I normally plan things out, turn things over and over in my head, tumbling the rough ideas into smooth steps. Today, no. Woke up. Thought about it. Did it. Nice.

These pots are inspired by batik fabrics. I started with a couple of motifs and just kept painting until I couldn't think of anything more to put on them. They're a little shaky since I have no training for this kind of thing, but I like them.

I've sealed them with some Modge Podge (also leftover from my Michaels days), and I'm very happy with them. I may seal them later on with some polyurethane, but we'll see how well the Modge Podge does. It's tough to stop "improving" things sometimes.

So, the bathroom didn't get cleaned, I didn't work on my knitted blanket, and I didn't work on the computer. I painted two pots. I had a nap, and painted some more. Nice.

Here's to unplanned projects with no time limits and with the singular purpose of beauty. Thanks, sunshine!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Comfort Yarn

All those that love a grilled cheese sandwich on a cold, rainy day, raise your hands now.

Yeah, me too. Nothin' quite like comfort food, huh? I know, it's bad for you, but sometimes you just need to feel the rush of a bit of the bad stuff going through you when you're having a bad day.

Yarn does the same for me. When I'm having a tough time, sometimes all I want to do is pull out some of my stash and place it around me in a protective circle of loveliness. Some of my friends (in fact, most of my yarn friends) have voiced the idea that you need a bit of emergency yarn in your desk when you're having one of those days that just won't let up. For example:

Scenario #1: The boss phones up and asks you for a report you thought you didn't need to write until next week. You open up a word processing document and place this in front of you to touch between each paragraph: 85% baby alpaca and 15% bombyx silk in laceweight by Alpaca Plus - soft, cool to the touch and smooth as... well, silk.

Scenario #2: You organize an event for a bunch of bigwigs, and instead of arriving on time, they arrive in trickles... one by one, milling around looking at their smartphones while you're looking at the clock because you know you only have them for a limited time before someone whisks them away to another event. You stuff this ball into your pocket to hold as you watch the door: Malagbrigo Superwash Merino in Cote d'Azur, fingering weight.

Scenario 3#: You book a bunch of meetings. The participants of five out of the ten meetings you booked phone all on the same day to say they can't make it, and each gives you two more dates and times they would prefer. You place this on the desk for you to rest your forehead on while your brain spins inside your skull: madelinetosh lace in Nebula... fantastically mesmerizing colour.

Scenario #4: Your dog, who was perfectly healthy all day, decides just before bedtime that it's time to go down to the basement to revisit his dinner... from both ends. It's time for the big guns. You bring out this yarn to clutch in your hands as you try to sleep while listening intently all night for any further retchings: A monster skein of 999metres of fingering weight Blue Faced Leicester by Fleece Artist. This is a great one to unwind and drape around your neck, like a perfect merino stole of happiness.

I know: It's only yarn. But you know what?

1) It's cheaper than therapy.
2) It's safer than tranquilizers.
3) It's darn wonderful stuff.

Ahhhh... comfort.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: Rediscovering Wonder

I try to take a couple of days a week to think about things that inspire me... to read things that might be interesting, to spend time reflecting on the things I see around me, and to watch videos of people sharing things about which they are passionate.

This leads me to spend a lot of time on the TED website. TED Stands for Technology, Education, and Design. It's an interesting site full of discussions from people sharing all sorts of ideas about, well, technology, education, and design. It's always full of heated discussion, people who disagree vehemently, and people defending as though their lives depended on it. There are some aspects about TED that I find a little elitist (like the fact that it costs thousands to attend the conferences, unless I misread something somewhere), but the fact that you can watch the videos for free is a fantastic thing.

So, last week, TED posted the following video on their Facebook page. It's a talk by artist Janet Echelman. What drew me to watch it was the title: Taking Imagination Seriously.

I know a lot of people will have watched the first few minutes of this video and thought, "Well, what's the point of having big nets in the air? Wouldn't it endanger a lot of birds for the sake of having something pretty in the sky?"

Firstly: There has not yet been a single bird caught in these things. The artist stated it perfectly: "There are plenty of big trees out there that birds manage to fly around." The nets are visible and flow just like tree branches do in the wind.

Secondly: Does there have to be a message? Maybe there is a message, but it is not a verbal one. It manifests itself as that feeling in your chest when you are deeply moved, or the way you wrinkle your forehead while you puzzle and make sense of what you are seeing, hearing, feeling. That's what happened to me as I watched this. You sometimes feel it when you hear a song that moves you, or see something that touches you, be it art, some technology, something scientific... something that shakes you and leaves you speechless. Maybe you are speechless because you're not supposed to say anything. You feel your eyes searching for something to focus on as you try to grasp something in your brain that is just out of reach... perhaps you are searching for that non-verbal message that this thing is sending you.

I used to be the sort of person who uttered the phrase, "What's the point of that," but the older I get, the more I find that there really isn't any answer to that sometimes. Not a verbal answer, anyway. I keep trying to explain this fascination of mine with yarn and pointy sticks or hooks, and you know what? Maybe there is no explanation. I like it. It moves me. It makes my mind exercise in ways it never used to before. And that's enough. It's wonderful.

And wonder is a great thing.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Three Amigos: Episode 1

So, what happens when three yarn divas set off on a day of fun in the city?

I picked up my friends, Tara and dkzack, in the morning and drove off in the sunshine into Calgary. We were pretty excited, and we chatted away the whole drive in. It wasn't long before we were talking about our projects, and we laughed as my friend, dkzack, pulled out her Blackberry to look at yarn online. "Yeah, I'll have to tell everyone that I bought yarn even before I got out of the car," she said.

It wasn't long before the rain that was forecast for the day started to come down, but it didn't dampen our spirits. The World Wide Knit in Public Event we attended ended up being a rather small indoor affair because of it, but we met some interesting knitters who are practically professional yarnbombers. I think the fact we drove in from out of town may have inspired a yarnbombing event. We may have a small horde of knitters descend upon us to decorate the urban fixtures around us soon!

It was also a day of firsts, as dkzack experienced not one, but two yarn shops, for the first time.

Good gracious, she may never be the same.

Our first stop was The Loop in NW Calgary, on their grand opening event. Since we didn't arrive until the afternoon, we had missed the big rush (apparently, there was a line up outside that morning), but there were still fantastic deals to be had. 15% off? Yeah, baby!

Yarn shops can be really intimidating the first time you go... so much yarn, so many things to look at... your mind starts to spin in panic over what you could possible make with this stuff. You are reluctant to walk away, though, because you know you'll regret it later. This being dkzack's first time, Tara and I were happy to let her have time to think. I mean, how hard would it be to convince us to hang around longer in a yarn store, huh?

Of course, since the first store left her so bewildered, we decided that the best remedy for dkzack was to go to another one!

Off we zoomed across town to Gina Brown's, a fantastic yarn shop with a LOT of stock. I think the initial sight of the size of this place might have frightened dkzack even more, but she was quickly calmed by the organization of the shop. All the yarn is organized clearly by weight (most yarn shops are, but not nearly as well as Gina Brown's), and there is a lot of each kind of yarn. You can easily walk away with a sweater's worth of yarn all in the same dye lot, which you can't always do in a lot of modern yarn shops.

So, Tara and I had a good time figuring out projects for dkzack. She walked away with some beauties, as did Tara.

And me? Well, I scoffed at the idea of bringing home more yarn...

I almost cracked my computer screen with the rate my nose was growing at just there.

Here are two skeins of Cascade Ultra Pima in a gorgeous shade of silver from Gina Brown's. I have a beautiful drapey shawl in mind for this.

These three just had to come home with me, all Mirasol Tupa, a 50/50 blend of merino wool and silk... *shiver* so lovely! Those two skeins of black aren't quite black. They're such an interesting colour, kind of like the colour that permanent black marker makes when you scribble on shiny cardstock.

And these... oh these...

I just could not walk away from this yarn. It's DROPS Alpaca, and it is SO soft. When I first touched these, my head practically spun around in circles looking for Tara or dkzack to find them so that I could make them touch it. Each time I touch it, it makes me smile. I need to be completely surrounded by this stuff!

Anyway, after a long day in the city, we drove home (I almost got us killed by trying to overtake a big truck that didn't see us, but I think the others are over it by now). It was a quieter drive home, the three of us worn out from our adventures, but the drive was entertaining as my passengers fondled their purchases (dkzack, you stay away from my yarn bag!).

Later on, I Tweeted and Plurked the following:
So happy with my yarn purchases today that I may sleep with them under my pillow. :-)
And a couple of my followers wanted to see that. So, this afternoon, I took a nap:

Anyway, this is actually one the first of three adventures for the three of us this month. Stay tuned for our next adventure: Olds Fibre Week!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Prepping for the Tribe

Do you KIP/CIP? Do you wanna? You should. Everyone's doing it tomorrow.

KIP means Knit In Public, and CIP (if you haven't already worked it out) means Crochet In Public. These are activities I do pretty much every single day, but for some people, it's not the norm. I suppose it might have something to do with self-consciousness of being seen doing a "matronly" thing. Or maybe it's just not cool. Or maybe it's just not convenient, I dunno.

Tomorrow, June 11, is World Wide Knit in Public Day, and some friends and I are heading into the city to go and check out an event organized by The Calgary Foundation in honour of this day. It also happens to coincide with The Loop's Yarn Store Grand Opening, and the Hand Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Guild conference. It's a veritable yarn nerd's paradise!

Earlier this week, I started working on the Semele shawl, but about 30 rows in, I realized I'd made a big mistake, and decided to bail out before the shawl got too big. Luckily, I had only managed to knit a small corner of the shawl by this point. Rather than starting over, I figured that I should find a project to take with me for KIP Day that would allow me to hold a conversation whilst knitting, rather than spending my time squinting at a chart and muttering quietly to myself as I normally do when I start a new lace project.

That'll be easy, I thought. I'll just use some of that organic cotton that's been sitting in my basket and whip something up.

That was two days ago. Easier said than done.

This weakness of mine for variegated yarns is well-documented in this blog, but it's seriously starting to get me in trouble. I'm forever searching for projects to make these pretty skeins of yarn work without looking like clown vomit, and well... it's frustrating.

I tried two different projects:

Holding Hands Feeding Ducks, a star stitch pattern. I worked about four rows and then decided it wasn't working with these colours.

The Step Ribbed Stole, a ribbed pattern. I would have continued with this if I'd cast on more stitches, but I think that the ribbing was getting lost in the colours, and it wouldn't have been worth carrying on.

This morning, while swimming, my mind wandered through images of things I'd seen made with variegated cotton yarns. Then, I thought of the famous Baby Surprise Jacket. (Apologies for all the links, but I don't have permission to use any of the photos.)

What's so great about this pattern is that the lines of the jacket change directions at strong angles, breaking up the colours of variegated yarn into interesting shapes. I knew I didn't want to make the jacket (at least, not right now), but I did want to take advantage of the idea of using that same kind of textured stitch (garter stitch) and the strong angles.

I've decided to put together a throw blanket using the stitch pattern for Not a Celebrity Scarf, and some mitered squares. I don't normally make blankets, but this beautiful soft yarn is just crying out to be cuddled on a cold day. I'm only a few rows in, but I'm liking the result so far. And the best part?

It's so freaking easy!

I wonder if I'll be the only knitter there who stressed about what project to bring along? I have a feeling I won't be, but I don't know if anyone would admit it.

Ah, but who cares. I can't wait to sit with other members of my tribe tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

From Mouse to Flower

When you were a kid, do remember the felt that you used to make Christmas crafts at school? Did you make a reindeer with a red nose, or some stripey candy canes? Do you remember cutting the shapes with your round edge scissors, sometimes ripping the last little piece apart because you couldn't get it cut?

I was always really confused by felt. I mean, I didn't sit at my desk with a perplexed look on my face when it was placed in front of me. I just didn't know what it was. Why felt? Why not cloth? What's so special about this stuff?

Well, the stuff I would've used as a kid was probably made from acrylic or viscose, leftovers from plastic manufacturing, which is probably how all those bright colours were created. It was only a few years ago that I understood from where felt actually originated: the matting together of wool fibres to create a dense fabric. Sometimes, this is done by laying it out damp and rolling it over and over, sometimes it's done with needles, and, in the case of the Mad Hatter, it is done by chewing the fibres together. The resulting fabric is strong, retains its hygroscopic properties, and is now resistant to shrinking (since it has already shrunk once).

I did my first felted project this weekend, but I didn't chew it (in case you were wondering).

The felting I attempted (and I say attempted because I think I could have done it better) is technically a type of felting called fulling. It's where you knit or crochet a piece in wool yarn, and then you commit three cardinal wool sins to it:

1) You dunk it in really hot water.
2) You agitate the heck out of it.
3) You shock it with cold water afterwards.

This encourages the fibres to splay out and then mat together to create a more dense fabric with less stretch. It shrinks down so that there is no air in it, and if you do it long enough, you should lose the definition of each stitch.

I based my project on a pattern from this Michaels project page. I finished knitting them on Sunday night, and then decided I'd try to felt them then.

The majority of the instructions I found used a washing machine. That kind of bothered me, because these were tiny little pieces, and I didn't want to use up a bunch of water to try to accomplish this in my washing machine. Surely someone had attempted this before the invention of washing machines...

I had to search a while until I could find some instructions for felting by hand. I filled a basin with hot water, added a little dishwashing liquid, and dropped the pieces in. I got out a metal slotted spoon and starting sloshing and stirring, humming a little tune until I'd agitated for about five minutes.

I pulled them out, and they didn't look much different. More agitation, I thought. I dunked the pieces in some cold water to shock them, and then dropped them in again, along with some decorative glass marbles I have sitting in a jar in my dining room.

Slosh, slosh, rattle, rattle...

Not much change after another five minutes. Cold water shock, refreshed the hot water, did it some more...

After another ten minutes, I could see some progress being made. There were more fuzzy fibres, and some of the definition starting to blur. Ok, now we're talking, I said.

After another fifteen minutes, I'm ashamed to say that I ran out of patience. I took the pieces out and rinsed them in cold water and examined them in the light of the bathroom. Hmmm, I thought. I wonder what would happen if...

I picked up two of the pieces and started to rub them together, right sides together. The fibres started to separate and fuzz. I rubbed them more vigorously for a few minutes, and when I pulled them apart, I had two pieces of felt. Hey, cool, I thought.

Ten minutes later, after rubbing these pieces together with each other, front and back, I had some felted petals.

Well, kind of, anyway.

I left them to dry for a day and a half, and there was some shrinkage, which was good.

I sewed the pieces together last night, then pulled out some of my old jewelry-making supplies and sewed on some beads. I attached a hair separator to the back of it, and voila:

New shawl pin for me!

I think the next felted project I do should be bigger, so I can feel ok about using a washing machine on it. I might get a truer felted object. I'm still really pleased with this, even if it's a bit lopsided.

I have to admit, though, I was tempted to bring one of those mouse-like pieces to work and to leave it in someone's drawer. Think of the screams! Ha!

I'm not that cruel. Well... maybe I'm just not that brave. Who knows what the retaliation would be...?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: The Box of Tinker Toys

When you were a kid, do you remember going to the doctor's office, or the house of a friend of the family, and do you remember being sat down in front of a box of tinker toys or other such building playthings and been told to amuse yourself until the grownups were ready for you?

I kinda feel like that today. I have plenty of nice things to play with and inspire me today, but I'm not sure what to do with them. And I feel like I can't really get up and do other things until I make something out of them, or until my mommy comes and tells me it's time to go home.

Here are some random sights in and around my house today:

A cushion with pins from a recent jacket refit stuck into it. It reminds me of a map with destinations marked on it.

The felted petals of a flower I'm trying to make. They look like mice being chased by a pair of scissors... "Three blind mice... see how they run..."

The hostas that are beginning to poke out and unfurl from the ground, like unraveling scrolls carried by a scribe in a rush.

Purple and yellow irises competing with the daylillies for attention.

The buds of a plant whose name escapes me. Doesn't it look like kitten toes? (And no, I don't think it's the plant nicknamed "pussy toes." Those grow next to this one.)

Bleeding hearts that look like they are dripping colour onto ornamental onions.

Perhaps it's because these things are so interesting to look at that I am at a loss for words. All I can think of are the smooth shapes and bold colours that are surrounding me. Maybe that's enough... to just soak them in without comment.

So, I won't comment. I think I'll let them carry on saturating my brain until the inspiration evolves into creativity. I'm pretty sure they'll get there.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Finger Metrics

Have you ever been on a really long drive somewhere? One that is days long, where you have to drive for hours and hours each day, looking forward to the end when you can get out, stretch your legs and look at something else apart from the road in front of you?

That's kinda what making this top was like.

It's finished, though, and I'm really happy with it.

In my last post about it, I had decided that the neckline was way too high, and I ripped back to about two inches past the armholes to lower it. It was a bit of a gamble... I didn't really do any concrete measurements. I just stood in front of the mirror and used my fingers to figure out where the important parts should hit.

"So, here's where the bust darts end," I muttered. "And I want the neck to go about here. And so I need to start about a third of a finger length above the dart. Is that an inch? Yeah, about an inch. And the armholes will start an inch above that..."

I turned, poked, prodded, twisted, held up the fabric to my body... all very imprecise, but I know how I like my tops to fit.

I also decided to make the arms a touch longer, but not too long. I used my fingers to measure that, too... about one index finger long (about three inches).

I added half a finger of length to the torso.

The height of the sleeve cap is about a hand tall (from base of palm to tip of middle finger) plus half a finger.

And ya know, it fits. How's that for finger rulers?

I wonder if that's how a lot early seamstresses, tailors, milliners and cobblers did it. I mean, it's a finger. You always have it with you (I hope so, anyway), and it remains about the same length for most of your adult life. And it's not like you can stretch a finger out of shape, either... but I guess you can't really stretch a ruler or tape measure either.

But they're not as weird to measure with.

What kinds of weird objects do you use to measure with?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Clutter Forensics

Can you learn anything from someone's clutter? Sure you can. For example:
  • Look for the pile of bills I have taken out of envelopes and left on the dining table. If they're there, then it's not the weekend yet.
  • Count the pairs of shoes that have accumulated at the door. If the number is less than the number of days that have passed in the work week, I'm not home yet. Same with pairs of earrings.
  • If there's a jacket thrown over one of the kitchen chairs, it's cold outside. If not, it's cold inside.
  • If there's a printed pattern on the coffee table, I'm in the middle of a project.
  • If there's a glue gun in the kitchen, watch your step.
I'm trying to get better at tidying up after myself. I do share this space with someone else, after all. And I'm not six years old anymore, either.

But just think of all the information you'd be missing out on.