Sunday, July 31, 2011

Farmer's Wife blocks

#13  Buckwheat.
I had to dust off my math skills for this one.  I actually drafted it on graph paper and measured the base unit square, which is set on point.  Finished size is 1 7/16", so I cut the 4 square units 1 15/16" (using the square = +.5" rule). The tricky part was the triangles -- there are two kinds.  Half square triangles use the same finished measurement but get 7/8" added -- so they were cut 2 5/16".  But the quarter square triangles (the ones along the outer edge of the block with points facing in) have a different base measurement: 2" finished.  So I used the quarter square = + 1.25" rule and cut those squares 3 1/4".  Even though they are the same size triangles as the inner HSTs, if I had used the same cutting method the bias stretch would have been along the outer edge of the block, which is not something you want.  If that happens, the block is a hundred times more likely to stretch out of true square alignment.  I'm happy with the fabric choices on this one, and the corners are pretty good.  I was really careful with the sewing and the block is actually a tiny bit bigger than 6.5".
#14  Butterfly at the Crossroads.
Again with the math.  I didn't have to draft this one, but it's based on units that are 1/5 of 6", which works out to 1.2" -- or one and a scant quarter inch on the rotary ruler.  So the squares are 1 3/4" (scant), HSTs are 2 1/8" (scant), and the rectangles are 1 3/4" (scant) x 2 7/8".  The fabrics are from a thrift store shirt in an ugly ("puke colored" my son says) orange Hawaiian print, and remnants from boxers I made for Steve from a French map fabric.  (Any fabric with maps on it is great for Steve).

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sock Summit

Today I went to the Sock Summit marketplace.  This monument to fibery capitalism is sensory overload for any knitter, and there was a lot of spinning fiber too.  I succeeded in keeping the expenditures under budget -- barely.  Left to right: Sanguine Gryphon Skinny Bugga in "Bog Fritillary," Little Red Bicycle Hipster Sock in "Vixen," souvenir Sock Summit coffee mug, and Holiday Yarns spinning fiber with superwash merino, nylon, silk, and silver in it.

There was a sock museum demonstrating sock knitting techniques through the ages.  I saw the preliminary heats of the "fastest sock knitter" contest.  There are famous lights in the knitting world there -- the Yarn Harlot and I crossed paths in the ladies' room.  I chatted with Wanda Jenkins about the Buttercup top that I was wearing and both of us have knit.  If I had had unlimited funds I would have bought another spindle from them -- I really like the Lark, but I don't really need another spindle.

Wow, that was fun.  Good thing I don't go someplace like this every week.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Listening - book reviews

Catching up on the audiobooks we listened to recently:
The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy, by P.G. Wodehouse, features some stories that I believe were excerpted from Carry On, Jeeves.  I've talked about Wodehouse before -- if you haven't made his acquaintance yet, it's time.  Jeeves and Wooster stories are a really good place to start.

Popes and the Papacy: a History, by Thomas F. X. Noble for the Teaching Company, was a fascinating and surprisingly fast-moving overview.  In 24 lectures on 12 CDs, we go from "the Rise of the Petrine Idea" to Benedict XVI and beyond.  From my professional perspective, I would have appreciated a deeper exploration of the era from the Apostolic age to the fall of Rome -- but of course that's just the era for which we have very few records.  Basically, the bishops of Rome were the last responsible adults left standing after the Roman emperors retreated to Constantinople and the barbarians invaded.  Hearing about the corruption of the medieval popes is enough to raise any Protestant's hackles; the lecturer is doubtless Catholic because he doesn't probe too deeply here, but neither does he gloss over the less stellar moments of the papacy.  This was the first Teaching Company lecture series we listened to, but I'm sure it won't be the last.

Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates is children's lit of an earlier era.  I always loved his Robin Hood, and in recent years we've listened to audiobooks of Otto of the Silver Hand and Men of Iron: he seems to be one of the classic authors who is well liked by librarians.  I think this is more of a compilation of unrelated stories, put together by a later editor.  They're fun, not too deep, and of course fit in with the recent Disneyland theme.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

WIP Wednesday #4 - Quest for the Holy Grail

This will be my fourth time linking up to Freshly Pieced, which is kind of a quilter's block party.  Since we just recently returned from the Great American Road Trip, there hasn't been too much sewing going on yet.  But I do have three Famer's Wife Quilt blocks to share, one of which I made this week.
Continuing in alphabetical order, we have Box.  It's a simple 9-patch, so each of the individual squares finishes to 2".  The HST's were cut 2 7/8", and the one square was cut 2 1/2".  That's a wacky vintage gray print I used - pretty sure it's not 100% cotton.
This is Broken Dishes, but I think of it as Grandma's Broken Dishes because those were her colors.  The check is some of her fabric, I think, and the flower pattern is from one of my mom's aprons.  This was another one where I drew a grid of 2 3/8" squares to make the HST's.
And the one I made this week: Broken Sugar Bowl.  This is another 9-patch pattern, very similar to Jacob's Ladder.  I used one of my Grandma's old aprons for the sugar bowl fabric.
She must have loved that apron a lot, because it was mended very carefully in several places.  Look how she first sewed a bigger patch on the back, then reverse appliqued the edges of the hole.  And she even matched the pattern a little bit.
Here's what it looked like on the back -- the patch was machine hemmed, but hand sewn on.  It is a really pretty vintage print, but there aren't many usable bits of fabric left unfortunately.  There's even a little bit of fraying on one of the triangles in the sugar bowl that I didn't notice until the block was together.

Now, the Holy Grail for me has nothing to do with quilting; what I'm really in search of is a clean, healthy, well-organized house (with kind, well-behaved, respectful kids, of course).  Not that you'd know it from looking at it or anything.  So when we came back from vacation, I realized that company's coming in less than a week and summer vacation is FLYING by, so I would need to act fast to get the house in even semi-acceptable order before All Hope Is Lost.  The way things go during the school year, I don't do much cleaning.  And of course, summer vacation is supposed to be for fun, right? Well, sometimes I get the nesting impulse and cleaning is actually fun.  A little bit.  A very little bit, and only when you pick a tiny corner of the house where no one else ever goes that you know will stay clean for a day or two.  Like the basement.
I'm always intrigued by little racks and storage things for organizing your house.  But just locating the hammer and 2 nails for hanging this rack was an ordeal.  And yes, those are canning jar lids tacked up onto the wood - I'm not exactly sure why, somebody once said it was so that mice couldn't get through the knotholes.  There are a lot of them, especially on stairs.
Our basement is a scary place.  Here's the site of my unfortunate accident at the beginning of the summer.  That's after I vacuumed up vast quantities of spidery cobwebs from the rafters and swept up the loose dirt and rocks a bit.  Yes, about 10% of our basement walls are bare earth, and that is probably a bit of groundwater seeping up in the corner there and turning the earth damp.  I've been concentrating on cleaning the storage alcove - we call it the "coal cellar" although really the old furnace burned sawdust.  The last time it flooded we lost the particle-board shelving unit along the far wall and I recently bought a metal rack to replace it.  So that's been put together and I'm slowly organizing stuff in there.  I'm spraying the walls with a bleach-water solution to help with the mildewy smell.  But what I really need to do is to clean the parts of the house that will be used by the 19 people that are coming for our family reunion next week - especially the guest room and dining room.  Are they going to care about the coal cellar?  Probably not.  But I actually have a chance of cleaning the whole coal cellar, and there's not a chance in the world of getting the dining room neat before they get here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tour de Fleece Wrap-up

Group shot of all the fiber that I dyed or spun during the 23 days of the Tour de Fleece.  I didn't have specific goals, other than to process the older fiber in my stash and get it down to the point where I can work with the stuff I've bought in the last year.  I was pretty successful, although I still have to wind off and count yardage on a lot of this stuff.  I learned how to Navajo-ply, and I became a lot more comfortable with spindle-spinning and also with spinning fine.  I'm going to need to come up with a knitting challenge to use this up, but that's for later.  I do have a few ideas.
Here's the Bow Tie block from the Farmer's Wife Quilt.  I'm doing this ad lib, no templates, so here's how I did it:  It's a 4 patch, so I cut 2 each of the blue and the rainbow plaid to 3.5" (each will finish to 3" and that brings the total block to 6" finished size).  Then I cut 4 green plaid squares to 2" square and used the "fast-45" technique to add them onto the corners of each square.  A very easy block, made with some of Grandpa's rainbow plaid shirt, so it looks like Grandpa's bow-tie.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vacation remnants

The girls in the Tour Thru Tree
We had to pull the mirrors in to get the car through.
"By Cauldron Pool" - not really, but it sure looks like it.
Tertia with a clown bear redwood carving.
Quarta at the Reagan Library.
At the Jelly Belly factory.

Most of the Disneyland shots that I haven't shared yet are on Steve's cell phone, so they haven't been transferred yet to the computer.  We're doing lots of laundry, and I've discovered a slow leak in the washer that will need attention, but may explain that musty/mildewy smell that's been bothering me for months.  Lots of cleaning and organizing that needs to be done before the cousins show up this weekend.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Somthing of a canned post for you today, as we prepare to spend the day travelling home.  I did this "Bouquet" block from the Farmer's Wife quilt a few days before we left.

It's a little more complicated than a simple 16-patch grid, but it starts out that way.  Since I didn't want to try to cut those parallellograms that form the bouquet, I decided to do that part of the block with paper piecing.  So I drew a 6" square using graph paper, marked the registration lines that form the base grid (at 1.5", 3", and 4.5"), and drew the block.  You can see that the points of the bouquet pieces touch the 1.5" and 4.5" lines.  I cut the 4 segments of the bouquet apart, then pieced them using the paper-piecing method. Then I sewed the 4 bouquet pieces together, making sure to keep the points of the paper blocks aligned. 

The rest of the block I did with conventional (well, modern conventional) rotary cutting and piecing: the large gold triangle started as a 3 7/8" square, cut diagonally.  The two side rectangles were cut 5"x2".  The small HST was from two 2 3/8" squares.

Yesterday we ended up getting in to the hotel very late, because we spent a lot of time at the Reagan Library which has a fantastic museum, and then got stuck in massive traffic around Santa Barbara.  Today is Quarta's 9th birthday and we're celebrating with a quick stop at the Jelly Belly factory (even though we bought some at the Reagan Library) and then driving all day to get home in time for Steve to play piano at church tomorrow.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Age quod agis

The Bootstrappers, Disneyland's pirate band, with their version of "Whiskey in the Jar."

Age quod agis = "Do what you do."  Nobody has learned this better than Disney.  Amidst all the crowds and long lines, it's still fundamentally amazing that thousands of people put this show on, all of them dedicated to making your individual experience there as enjoyable as possible.  Wherever you go in the parks -- and we gamely tried to do everything in two days -- everyone there is pulling together. 

For young children and the ones who never quite grow up, it's simply magical.  Quarta had a birthday button because her 9th birthday is coming up tomorrow -- everywhere she passed, park staff were wishing her a happy birthday.  Tertia's favorite princess of all time is Cinderella -- when Cinderella and Snow White passed by on their way to an important date, Tertia gazed up in total love and Cinderella caught her hand and smiled at her and greeted her briefly.  She'll remember that forever as when she met the real Cinderella.  For those of us who are older and a little more cynical, we still get a great deal of enjoyment from trying to figure out how it all works.  And maybe, we are able to get a little closer back to seeing the world as a child sees it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book reviews: Vacation audiobooks

The Great American Road Trip affords ample time for listening to audiobooks.  Here are some quick reviews.

The Children's Homer by Padraic Colum is required reading in Cedar Tree middle school years, so it was familiar to our first two, but I hadn't read it.  This was our first CD to try in the new van.  It is an easily accessible retelling of both the Iliad and the Odyssey.  The only thing that was a bit disconcerting for me was the very jumpy storyline.  I know epics are supposed to start in medias res, but this story started with Telemachus going on a quest to find out what happened to his father and hearing the Iliad (and parts of the Aeneid) told to him by the other war veterans he meets, all in flashback form.  The great battle scenes of the Trojan War are as much of a blur to me (as a decided non-combatant) as they have always been, but I caught the mention of Helen's golden spindle and Penelope's golden shuttle! (I'm not sure how practical they would be, but I'm game to try fiber tools made of gold if someone wants to give one to me as a mark of my high status!)  I have always favored the more linear retelling that I have enjoyed since childhood myself in Myths of Greece and Rome; but this is an expanded version that keeps the flavor of the original while placing the young reader (or hearer) in the shoes of Telemachus.  Note to those who plan to read the originals: don't expect to find the Trojan Horse in either of the Homeric epics: that's saved for Vergil's Aeneid.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!  Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz, is a quick read/listen.  Written as a series of short monologues for a school play, it's like a miniature Canterbury Tales for children (the Miller's son is edgy in this version too).  I liked the audio version's use of music from Carmina Burana in the interludes, and I liked the meticulous historical research and the emotional resonance created by each of the different characters (sometimes in very unexpected but historically authentic ways).  I disliked the automatic negative portrayal of Latin wherever it appeared (boo!) and in general, the modernistic lens through which these medieval characters are viewed.  For example, there is not much mention of Church vocations at all, and none in a positive light; there is an assumption that the lack of birth control proved a severe hardship to village women, and that Christians normally treated Jews with murderous enmity.  But overall, a delightful and lyrically written play.  The audiobook was beautifully produced with multiple voice actors; the pictures in the real book are well worth close examination.

The Time Machine and other stories by H.G. Wells - this is one of those books that I had never made it through although I've been meaning to forever.  Overall, I prefer Jules Verne's sense of optimism to Wells' bleak disillusionment with the Victorian age of progress.  He seems to accept Darwin's evolution, but melds it with Marxism in a way that will lead to the ultimate downfall of humanity.  Our audiobook had a series of short stories included, some of which were memorable and haunting.  I enjoyed playing literary detective and speculating about which stories influenced C.S. Lewis.

Gotta go, we have a breakfast date with Minnie.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Great American Road Trip

Summer family vacation, brought to you by Dad.  There have been WhalesRedwoods.  We drove through one.  A little bit of the Pacific Ocean. The One Log House. A tour of Beringer Vineyard in Napa Valley.  Hotel pools and Marco Polo (use your imagination).  All of this leading up to Disneyland.  Lots of driving to do tomorrow still.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Thar she blows!

I actually had the chance to say that in context today!  While travelling south from Crescent City, we heard about a mother gray whale and her calf that have taken up residence in the estuary of the Klamath River.  There's a section of a coastal drive loop through the Redwoods where people were pulling over and watching, and we got out and watched too.  Sure enough, we saw them spouting; and they really do make that noise like in the movies and nature programs, we could hear it from the riverbank.  Unfortunately no picture: gray whales, gray water, gray day combined made for too low a contrast -- but the link above has a pretty good video.

Other wildlife seen today: an elk herd, a banana slug, a coho salmon (we think) swimming in a stream underneath a bridge, amazing centuries-old redwoods -- we even drove through one of them.  This is turning out to be one of those good old-fashioned American road trips.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

More spinning, and vacation

While our wheels were spinning today, I spun on my spindle.  This may be the biggest cop I've managed to fit onto my spindle yet.  Following are some other pictures from the last few days of the Tour de Fleece.


BFL (Blue-Faced Leicester) wool from Crown Mountain Farms, dyed Monday with Wilton's royal blue.  I tried several pictures, but none can capture the richness of the blue/purple/aqua.  Wilton's food coloring tends to break in interesting ways, which I love -- that means there is a lot of variation in the color of the end product.  This photo comes closest to capturing the color, but it's richer in real life.  Spinning this to a laceweight and I will add it to my stash of yarn for shawl knitting.
This is lovely stuff and I just had to begin it before leaving my wheel for a week.  A blended batt of merino, bamboo, and firestar sparkly stuff from Butterfly Girl Designs called "seashell."  I've been spinning every day of the Tour de Fleece, at least a little, and it's amazing how I've cleaned out some older stash.  Now I feel like I can justify getting into some of my really nice fiber.

We're in Crescent City, CA tonight on our way south.  We stopped at Mt. Angel Abbey, since Quarta and I enjoyed it so much when her 3rd grade class went there on a field trip.  There's a little self-guided tour we took, looked at the monks' cemetery, the church, then the library.  Wow, the library... I've hung out at a lot of libraries in my time, and I love illuminated manuscripts and look at them wherever I can, but I've never enountered anywhere that is so generous with sharing rare books as the Abbey library.  At the merest hint that a family stopping by on vacation would like to see the rare books, (and I did say I remembered what a wonderful presentation he had given to the third grade class) the gentleman librarian ushered us into the vault.  We saw the 13th century manuscript student's Bible, with microscopic lettering 14 lines to the inch.  We saw the book with its gilt edge painted with a lighthouse landscape when you fan the edge slightly.  We saw the incunabulum, a German Bible printed when the printing press was in its infancy, that a private collector wants for 6 figures.  And we saw the book of Hours, with the lovely paintings.  All of this probably wasted on some of the children, so I made sure to point out how these people have devoted their lives to serving God and are so generous with the blessings they have and with their time and expertise.  We felt specially privileged.  And the Abbey museum is well worth the visit too.

We stopped for a cool, wet, inside-the-car picnic lunch at Silver Falls state park, and looked at some of the overlooks and decided we needed to come back sometime for a hike.  And then we drove some more.  The new van has a 20-gallon gas tank instead of a 15-gallon one -- which means we can go a lot further on one tank, but it costs a whole lot more to refill.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Birds in the Air

Since I've decided (sort of) to follow along in the Farmer's Wife Quilt Along, I should update my progress.  You should know I don't have the book and am doing this without benefit of templates -- so I'm more of a common-law wife, I guess.  I think there are a lot of quilting skills that are in the public domain, and analyzing quilt blocks so I can reproduce them is a skill I have that I'm happy to share, so you're welcome to follow along and make them with me if you like.  They go fast. I made the first 6 blocks in one day.
Birds in the Air is the 7th block in the series (gotta love alphabetical order!).  A 6" finished measurement (6.5" from raw edge to raw edge, ideally) means this breaks down into a 4-patch, each of the smaller squares finishing to 3" (3.5" unfinished).  So, knowing that the "magic measurement" for half-square-triangles is +7/8", I cut two 3 7/8" squares from the pink fabric.  (I'm choosing something vintage, thrifted, or upcycled for each block of this quilt: this block has pink from one of my late mother's shirts and the green fabric is a small scrap from my stash - probably almost old enough to be considered vintage).  Then I cut them diagonally in half and set them aside.

The real challenge is the tiny HSTs finishing to 1" - if I cut individual triangles for all of them, it would be very difficult to piece them.  For the 12 finished squares made of HSTs, I chose to draw a grid of 1 7/8" squares on graph paper to use as a stitching guide, which I pinned to the fabric sandwich.  This tutorial shows the concept; I've used this method many times, but usually I draw the grid directly on the fabric; this time I decided to use the paper in part to provide extra stability while stitching those super-small triangles.  After I stitched my grid of 6 squares (if you need 12 HST units, draw a grid with 6 squares), I cut them apart on all the solid lines.
Then I set up an assembly line and ironed them; pressing towards the dark side.
Finally I stacked 3 or 4 together and cut off the mouse ears with the rotary cutter.  Getting rid of that little bit of extra bulk usually helps when you're stitching the pieces together.
The pattern still needs 12 individual green triangles; I cut 6 squares to the 1 7/8" measurement and cut them on the diagonal.  Then I laid them all out in the pattern, being careful to line up all the green triangles so that their directional print was going the same way within each quarter of the block, because I'm strange that way.  And I sewed them together.  If you're careful with every step of the process and make sure your seams are consistently a quarter inch, lots of tiny HSTs are nothing to be afraid of.
Although, after making this quilt 4 years ago, I'm okay with most of my projects these days being HST-free.  Delectable Mountain Star, from the epic Mom Memorial Quilt Project.  You can see some of the pink fabric in there, actually.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

WIP Wednesday #3: Flirting with the Farmer

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

So, this is my third Wednesday of linking up over to Freshly Pieced, and it's keeping me sewing even while the Tour de Fleece is going on. 
First, a finished product this week, from Carla's Pants into Capris tutorial, for my 11yo daughter (blogname Tertia.)  I really like this method for converting thriftstore purchases to fit her special frame: it doesn't require a traditional hem on the jeans material with all the bulk, and it allows me to show off some of my fun fabrics to encase the hem.  Super easy.  And the embroideries I cut off the bottom I converted into an extra pocket and a cute applique. 
I used my darning foot and dark blue thread and followed the light blue embroidery stitching inside and out, so it should stay on.  You can't even see the stitching here, but with washing the edges of the applique will fray a little.

I'm very succeptible to suggestion; for a few weeks now I've been watching the progress of the Farmer's Wife Quilt Along on Lee's and Elizabeth's blogs, and thinking about how much fun those little 6" blocks would be.  Well, I looked in 3 stores and the library without finding the book, but then I thought to myself, "If I can't use my 20+ years of quilting experience to figure out how to piece those little blocks, do not think I have wit to lie straight in my bed." (paraphrasing Maria in Twelfth Night there).
Yesterday I was a bit distracted and made a bunch of blocks.  I'm going scrappy -- how could I not? -- and trying to use at least one vintage, thrifted, or upcycled fabric in each block.  In fact, fabrics in these 1st 4 blocks are all from one or more of those categories.  Counterclockwise from the bottom, they are
  1. Attic windows
  2. Autumn tints
  3. Basket
  4. Basketweave
I also did 5. Batwing, in pink and blue, and 6. Big Dipper in greens.

Technically, I'm not a Farmer's Wife but more of a girlfriend.  For one thing, I'm not using the book and I'm not using templates unless I absolutely have to. For another, the official Quilt Along is hosted on Flickr, and I've completely forgotten how to use my Flickr account and I was almost to my limit of 200 pictures anyway.  So we'll see where this goes.  It's a good chance to keep my basic piecing and block analysis skills fresh, and play with my scraps.  I can hardly ignore the chance to do a block sampler, I love them so much.

Side by side, here is my lesson learned this week.  My first attempt at Big Dipper used a homespun plaid and what looks like a loose-weave brushed cotton from some kids' bedding.  I used my standard technique for quarter-square triangles: cut squares 1.25 inches larger than finished size, draw diagonal lines on the backs, stitch 1/4 inch on both sides of one diagonal, cut apart, press to the dark side, put the resulting HSTs together right sides facing, stitch 1/4" on both sides of the other diagonal, cut apart and you have 2 identical hourglass units.  Familiar enough to most quilters, right?  But the loosely woven materials I tried to use in the first block warped and stretched out of shape when I pressed them.  I can only imagine how badly they would have stretched if I had actually cut the bias edges of the triangles before sewing.  (Not to mention the color choices... I like scrappy and thrifty, but there are limits!) I used the identical method with more tightly-woven, traditional quilt-weight cottons and I was happy with the result.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A study in orange

Today was a rest day on the Tour de Fleece, and I did some dyeing.
Long story short, I offered to knit my sister a sweater and she wants one just like this one that I did in 2009 when I was turning out one a month.  So I set out to replicate the dyeing process today.  I started using Wilton's cake decorating color gels to dye back when my kids were little, and I've kept up with it because it's easy to find and nontoxic, although I'm sure the "real" dyes are much more colorfast.  There are many tutorials on using Wilton's or other food colorings to dye wool: here's just one.

I dye in an old pressure canning kettle (I don't trust the pressure gauge, so I use it only for dyeing).  It makes the house smell like vinegar and hot, wet wool -- which is a smell that has grown on me, but my kids hate it.  The wool that is now orange is superwash, which means it can be washed in the machine without felting it.  And there are 2.5 pounds of it, which is a lot.  I dyed it in 5 8 oz. batches, using primarily copper, brown, and orange.  But of course I like to add blobs of other colors here and there, to make it interesting.  From the top down, my "recipes" (not scientific here) were
  1. about 2/3 of a jar of brown, plus blobs of orange and small blobs of teal, in a cold dyebath that heated up gradually.  This left areas of less color where the dye didn't penetrate.
  2. about 2/3 of a jar of copper, plus blobs of brown, stirred into the already hot dyepot before I added the fiber.  More even coverage.
  3. orange, plus copper and brown, also stirred into the hot dyepot.
  4. started fresh with a cold dyepot, mixed in nearly a whole jar of copper, then blobs of brown, royal blue, and red.
  5. brown, red, and a few other blobs.
This will take quite a while to spin up.  So far in the TDF I've been spinning like mad but I don't think I've spun a full pound yet.  Sweaters take a lot of wool.  I'll be spinning this in the fall when I have orange cravings.

Of course, I didn't want to waste all the effort of getting the dyepot out and so I dyed some Blue-faced Leicester from last year's Black Sheep Gathering trip (4 oz.).  In royal blue.

And then some Wensleydale from Woodland Woolworks, 8 oz. in delphinium blue.
BFL on the right, Wensleydale on the left (plus a tiny bit of generic wool to sop up the leftover dye).

 I didn't wear gloves.  It'll be better after a few days.  It was a fun Monday, but I didn't get much laundry done.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tour de Fleece progress

The Tour de Fleece continues.  I made a collage of the last 24 hours of spinning, more or less, clockwise from top left:
  • I checked out a video for Navajo-plying, but when I tried to emulate the elegant motions in the video, I failed utterly.  So I developed my own system.  It wasn't pretty - it involved running the yarn under the neighboring empty bobbin to tension it and keep it from kinking, and my right arm making wide sweeping motions without ever really looking at what my left hand was doing in controlling the twist, but I ended up with a 3-ply skein that I'm moderately happy with.  It was my first success with Navajo or chain-plying.  The music that I had stuck in my head to accompany the process was Alasdair Fraser's Traditional Gaelic Melody, not the much more uptempo "I'll ply away" that I hear when I do regular plying.
  • I spun a little bit more of the Goblin Girl merino.  Probably not realistic to do a whole bobbin in one day, although I'd like it if I could make that much progress.
  • I have a clothesline up and have been washing my wool and handknits and letting them dry there.  This is the completed white and black skeins from the first 4 days of the tour, and some brown tweed yarn reclaimed from a thrift store sweater find.  And "Salve Magistra", otherwise known as Hey Teach.  Most of my wool sweaters have been washed, dried, and stored in space-saver bags to protect them from moths for the summer.  And just in time, too, I keep killing moths around the house.  Little ones, like they just crawled out of someplace after hatching.  Ugh.
  • While I was spinning on the deck yesterday, Steve was weeding.  He found a fairly large clump of fiber that had blown away 3 or 4 days ago.  So I'm not done with the Sheep Shed Studio grab bag fiber after all.  Bummer.
  • Or maybe it didn't blow away... remember I had "help" from Smudge that day.  My cats have been known to run off with wool before.
  • I added a little more to the cop on my Kuchulu spindle.
In case anyone should want them, here are the lyrics I came up with for "I'll Ply Away."

I’ll Ply Away

Some glad morning midway through the Tour,
I’ll ply away;
Three full bobbins, maybe even four,
I’ll ply away.

I’ll ply away, Oh glory,
I’ll ply away (in the morning)
Then I’ll dye, Hallelujah, bye and bye;
I’ll ply away.

Just a few more hours with my wool,
I’ll ply away;
Yes, my spindle’s getting pretty full;
I’ll ply away.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review: Septimus Heap book 6, Darke

In Darke, the recently-published 6th book in the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, fans will find the action and characters that they have enjoyed in this series all along.  (See previous posts on Septimus Heap, or here's the quick summary: a Harry Potter knock-off that works, good for tween readers and up, no troubling YA or dark fantasy elements).  In this volume, the conflict is caused by a foolish young man who has essentially sold himself to the forces of darkenesse, and who establishes a Darke Domaine that grows outward from the palace, threatening to overwhelm the entire city and even the Wizards' Tower.  Septimus Heap, meanwhile, is preoccupied by his upcoming apprenticeship test, in which he must encounter the Darke without being lost in it.  Unfortunately the wise old ghost of Alther Mella has been banished and is not available to help him.  Marcia Overstrand the Extraordinary Wizard is irritable and preoccupied with her own concerns, Marcellus Pye the ancient alchemist is at odds with Marcia, and Princess Jenna has quite a bit of trouble escaping the Port Witch coven.

Most of the book describes the events of one night; no fear of it being slow-moving.  I asked my 8-year-old daughter, who raced me through the book, if it was too scary and she said it wasn't scary, it was "creepy."  That about sums it up.  Coming of age is a significant theme in the book: Jenna and Septimus have their 14th birthday: she comes closer to accepting her grown-up role of Queen, he has to prove his worthiness against the Darke before he can become Extraordinary Wizard.  No major new characters are introduced in this book, but Beetle's character is also nicely developed.  Another recurring theme is family reunions after long estrangements.  In several instances we see prodigals returning home, or long-alienated siblings, parents, and children reunited.  It's realistic, with mention of the character defects that caused the falling out in the first place, but still a positive model to give children.  Without giving too much away, the author is not one of those who enjoys killing off characters; there is resolution, if not a completely happy ending, for almost all characters.  The whole series has, obviously, an obsession with the number 7: I'm willing to guess here that the next book will be the last, and that its title will probably be Fyre.


Yesterday's progress in the Tour de Fleece: I had help from Smudge, when he wasn't chasing off a squirrel.  My first attempt at a photo collage, and it's going to need work.  Today I'm starting the 5.1 ounce braid from Crazy Hat Lady, merino wool in a colorway called "goblin girl."

I finished Tertia's capris and she wore them today.  I have another pair to do, but I plan to use some of the cut-off embroideries to make pockets, so it will be a little more time-consuming.
An amusing incident with Quarta's flip-flops yesterday: frustrated by the disappearing red stripes, she colored them back in with a red marker - which wasn't permanent.  Instead of being caught red-handed, she was red-footed.  The above photo shows the results of a soapy foot-bath... just a little pink residue.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

WIP Wednesday

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

My second WIP Wednesday.  This week I have been working on boxers:

For some reason, the brown thread (from Connecting Threads, on a plastic spool) is making my machine glitch up something terrible: breaking threads, grinding noises, unable to sew at speed AT ALL.
But then when I switched to white Star thread (same size spool, but on a cardboard base instead of plastic) to sew the big long seam on this quilt back, it was fine. 
It's the backing for this quilt, my mother-in-law's Japanese Lanterns, that has been the hobgoblin on my back and the source of a lot of quilt guilt for almost 2 years.
I'm loading it onto the megaquilter, folks.  I WILL conquer this thing.  Do I have a clear plan for the quilting pattern? Um, no, not exactly.  There will be a little curlicue design on the center bands of the lanterns, and I'm trying to come up with a simple fan-like pattern for the big white areas.  But it has to be in multicolor thread.  And "it has to be a masterpiece," according to my MIL.  But no pressure or anything!  I welcome suggestions.
I'm using pink thread in the machine now, making these cute jeans into capris using this tutorial for Tertia.  Her Down syndrome means pants that fit her around the waist need about 10" lopped off the bottom, so capris are pretty much what I buy for her.  Unless I find some regular jeans at the thrift store, like these and the second  pair I'll do next week.  I like the ability to dress up the hems simply, and Quarta can wear them as real capris after Tertia's finished with them.  The pink thread, also on a cardboard spool, is also Star brand but not quite as glitch-free as the white.  All of the threads are giving me trouble in the bobbin winder.

Of course my real WIP this week is the Tour de Fleece.  Here's yesterday's progress.  I've been taking my wheel out onto the back deck and spinning there, in the lovely breeze.  Smudge jumped up on my lap while I was working yesterday, but unfortunately no one was there to take the picture.