Wednesday, March 30, 2005

It's melting, it's melting!

Today it topped 50 degrees outside -- could someone write me a note so I don't have to go to work on the next day like this? I did leave work an hour early today & raced home to maximize my outside time! There was a roaring noise coming from the normally little stream to the east of the house, and indeed it is nearly overflowing its banks:

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I collected the sap (about a gallon) and sat outside with the cats for a while, but as soon as the sun set it got very cold, so here I am blogging. Abbey, for whom we nearly had to call in the fire department for a rescue mission, is loving this outside thing:

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Our animal neighbors are starting to show themselves, too -- I startled a sweet little possum last night when I drove in the driveway, a bear has ripped off one of our birdfeeders, and several deer were out browsing in the field this morning. Still no "Big Night" for amphibians that I know of, but they had one in Massachusetts on Monday night, so it should be soon!

The picture in the last entry of the Flower Basket Shawl was so dark -- I deleted it and meant to re-take it right away, but then I went to Cape Cod for the weekend to visit my Grandpa and ended up finishing the shawl while I was there! So here is a bright enough picture of the finished & blocked FBS:

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Laura & I started our 8-week weaving course last night at the Fiber Studio. The first project is a sampler of sorts, so we warped our looms with 2 yards of cotton carpet warp to make a 10-inch wide piece. The warping instruction was what I was really looking forward to because I have had several disastrous warping experiences. The way Pam showed us how to do it made it all much, much neater! Next week we start weaving!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Spring has Sprung!

The sugar maples are tapped (only 6 taps in all) and I have been getting about a third of a gallon of sap per day from each. I think since the trees are deep in the woods they don't get the chance to warm up very much each day, hence the low output. But it has been in the 4o's every day this week -- yesterday when it was so nice I escaped my office and walked around one of the ponds to be sure the trail would be clear enough for my homeschool programs today. I saw five deer walking out on the ice and also found a vernal pool that I hadn't known about before. The crocuses are popping up by the deck here at home (see Laura's pictures), the birds are singing, it smells like spring and the driveway is a muddy mess! IT'S WONDERFUL! (I staunchly refuse to allow a certain storm, supposedly arriving tonight and threatening 2-4 inches of That White Stuff, to ruin my happy spring mood).

Twilly & Abbey are recovering nicely from their surgeries last week and are delighted to learn that the world isn't always going to be winter. Abbey caught (and killed) her first mouse the other day and was so proud of her clever little self that she paraded and flipped it around the house for a long time until Mommy took it away less it end up decomposing under the couch and stinking up the livingroom. Two days later Clever Abbey found her mouse-cicle outside in the snowbank/garden where I had tossed it and brought it back in. When it later surfaced in Laura's room, she added it to the compost heap. Mouse has not been heard from since.

Dana at work is just back from Paris -- her family went to visit her oldest daughter who is studying abroad there! She was so sweet to bring me four balls of super-soft heathery-mauve fingering wool yarn, which I found in a bag on my desk this afternoon. She sure knows how to pick the souveniers! I can't wait to hear about her adventurous trip -- I had 2 groups of homeschoolers for sugar maple programs today and was decidedly not in the office between 9 and 4:30 and didn't get to say more than "hi-bye!"

Even though the Kimono shawl is almost done...only one more ball of yarn to go, I can't bear to stop working on the Flower Basket shawl to finish it. The FBS is made with some of that KnitPicks sockweight merino that I dyed a few weeks ago. Laura convinced me that the colorway isn't as horrible as I thought (greens, purples and dark pinks). I really liked it in skein form, but when I unwound it (as is usually the case for me with multicolored yarn in skein form) I didn't like it as much. But now it's growing on me again, I think. The first try on this shawl was with the Alpaca Cloud (also from Knitpicks), but I quickly abandoned that idea...has anyone else found Alpaca Cloud to be extremely slippery and hard to work with or is it just me?

The Avocado Disaster yarn has been overdyed with indigo and does not stink anymore. Liz received her Majacraft bobbins and rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata) for dyeing. The lichen came from a huge series of granite rock outcroppings at my mom's house -- it is by no means rare there, so fewer qualms about harvesting since lichens are so slow growing. To prepare the dyebath, lichens dried, crushed and soaked in household ammonia for 4-6 weeks. Then the solids are strained out and yarn is simmered in the liquid, which can be diluted somewhat with water. The dyebath will produce reddish brown to magenta to lavendery purple. Check out Karen Casselman's book Lichen Dyes to learn more about it.

Oh, and finally, this isn't anything new, but AARRGGHH!!! at all things Bush Administration (I'm listening to NPR and getting a bit worked up, as I inevitably do when I hear the sound of Georgie's voice. Please excuse me.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Great Avocado Disaster

Twilly & Abbey went to the vet yesterday to be spayed while Mena and Asterix enjoyed a peaceful reprieve from the otherwise non-stop action. I went in and picked them up this morning -- when I walked into the vet's office I could hear "yeeeooow, yeeeeoooow, yeeeeoooow" coming from the depths of the building -- Abbey the free spirit was not happy about being caged overnight. The pitiful noise continued all the way back home until they were released from their carriers in the living room. This evening Twilly is a bit lethargic and Abbey, who is begging attention by purring, alternately rolling over to have her little shaved belly scratched and walking all over the keyboard, says she's FINE. I somewhat regret that her genes will never be passed on!

Liz at Pocket Farm has been experimenting with natural dyeing -- go check out her results with onion skins! And because I am a terrible enabler, I sent her a surprise! Once she receives it, I'll post on what it was....

And now (drum roll, please) the reason for the title of today's entry. Since Liz has been dyeing and I have been reading about it, I, of course, had to get in on the action and decided this evening to finally try the avocado dye (featured in the Fall 2002 Spin-Off) which I have been eating guacamole and saving pits and peels for forever.

Too long, as it turns out. Did I follow the directions? Oops, well, um, noooo.....Upon re-reading the article, I found that the recommended procedure involves chopping the peels and pits and preserving them by soaking them in water for a few weeks before making the dyebath, occasionally boiling them to release the color and kill any mold. The directions DID NOT, unfortunately, recommend to put the pits and peels in the freezer (because it might preserve them longer), then soak them in water for several hot summer months, then leave them outside for most of the fall and winter to freeze again, then bring them in and essentially leave them to putrify for another few weeks before making the dyebath. I meant to get to it sooner, I really did. But I tried it this evening anyway, just in case...

Suffice it to say the whole project was a complete bust. It smelled SOOOO bad (the whole kitchen and my hands still stink). The dyebath was a pale orangey-brown, not the vibrant red promised in the article. The cats vacated the area. With head hung and breath held, I washed the tea-colored yarn several times to get out the stink. I should be arrested for abusing a fine merino sockweight by subjecting it to a horrible, nasty, stinky failure of a dyebath. At least I can overdye the yarn with something else...indigo maybe? This is surely my punishment for attempting a dyeing project alone while Laura (who is at archaeology lab night) and other fiber artists in general were not present.

I still really love the idea of an avocado dye, so maybe I'll try again and be a little more careful this time.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

10 days & counting...

I'm getting a little tired of has been so cold and snowy in the last couple of days and everyone except the cats seems to have a sniffly cold... And windy! You wouldn't believe how much snow comes in under the doors and through the window cracks in the old, old buildings at the Village! But I shouldn't complain -- the early signs of spring are definitely here -- sap has been running in the maples (well not in the last 4 days, but last weekend at least) and at IRWS the red-wing blackbirds are back and were making quite a racket when I was there on Sunday for the first maple sugaring tours! I thought it would liven things up a bit, too, to have our pre-schoolers plant seeds tomorrow that we can watch them grow for the rest of our six-week session!

I did a spinning presentation this morning for 3 classes of first graders at the school I used to work at...we read Charlie Needs a Cloak and they watched me card, spin on a drop spindle and my wheel. They were all so excited! I love it when they raise their hands to ask a question and end up telling a long (if somewhat confusing) story about someone they know or something they saw that somehow relates to what we are talking about -- it all makes perfect sense in their heads and they want to share!!

No progress on Laura's Aran sweater, a bit of progress on the Kimono shawl (I am so determined to finish it...only 2 balls of yarn to go!), and I will admit that I got a copy of Interweave Knits Summer 2004 issue because of Nancy Bush's Madli Shawl (Estonian lace) ...which I suppose I also have to admit to starting (as a scarf) with some of the Knitpicks white sockweight. The border went fine, but I think I am I just really dense when it comes to the main section of the pattern because I messed it up so many times...

Oh, and check out what Laura, Doug & I did last weekend....Laura is famous! She even taught the reporter how to spin!

Last night I was talking to John on the phone and ventured out to the as-of-yet-unrented apartment that is attached to the house to check on my worms. They (in their worm box, of course) have been living in the apartment bathroom for the winter because they had a near-miss freezing accident when I forgot to move them off the porch in the fall. Anyway, I went into the bathroom and discovered that sometime in the recent past (I don't check on them all that often -- they're pretty low maintenance) there was an Escape. I don't know why or how, but probably about 50 of the little buggers got out of the worm box, made down onto the tile and promptly shriveled up and died. Not just that, but the bottom pan of the worm bin was rather full of worms -- they must have migrated down there to look for food. So I had to hang up on John, and spend the next 15 minutes scooping handfuls of muddy worms (some quite small) back up to the proper bin level, feed them, and pray for spring so I can empty about 2/3 of the box into the big outside compost bin to start a worm colony there and give those in the box a little more breathing room. I think the worm composting box will be going to work with me for the summer for kids to throw in their apple cores and maybe start to think that worms are pretty cool little dudes after all....Poor John, though...I don't think he ever thought he would have a girlfriend that would have to hang up on him to go deal with a "worm crisis"!

And finally, I received a package in the mail a couple of days ago from the shelter where I adopted Twilly and Abbey. Twilly had been a stray that had only been there for 3 days, but Abbey had been born there because her pregnant mother had been brought in. Anyway, a worker at the shelter took pictures of the litter of kittens from Day One and assembled a little album that she sent to me -- Abbey's baby pictures! Isn't that the nicest thing?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Camp pictures!

What a week! I am completely blown away by the enthusiasm, energy & creativity of the kids I had for my fiber arts vacation camp at the Village this week. They spun, wove, knitted & dyed some really amazing stuff. These kids remind me why I love teaching! Here are some pictures of the highlights!

Sam at the spinning wheel:

Jordyn at the floor loom:

Rebecca & Anne at the tapestry loom:

Several very focused knitters:

And the jars of Kool Aid dye (I forgot to take a picture of the finished yarn...oops):

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

No camp today...

I hadn't anticipated having the time to write this week due to my vacation program at work, but unfortunately, today we are bombarded with another major snowstorm and camp is cancelled. This is a picture out the upstairs deck sliding door:

Yesterday was quite nice -- only three kids were there so they didn't have to fight over the available wheels (which I introduced after they were reasonably competent with hook spinning and drop spindles -- I personally think wheels are easier, but I've found that kids REALLY want to jump right to the wheel and then end up getting really frustrated because it goes too fast). Tomorrow we weave and I will post some photos then.

Anyway, on Sunday Laura was upset about being a grownup, so as happens in this house when someone is upset, we dyed wool. This time we used pro-chem dye and made stock solutions of red, blue, purple, black, yellow & jade green, then did some mixing, applied the dye, wrapped, steamed, cooled, etc. We employed Laurie's (of Yarn Harlot fame) technique of stuffing roving into an old pair of nylons to keep it from moving during the dye process, which worked very well. This was the first time I've used chemical dyes other than KoolAid and I like the results (bright!), though it isn't nearly as much fun as indigo or lichen or onions or any of those! And until I get a better idea of what I'm doing, these results are entirely non-reproducible -- I had no idea what they would look like when I sloppily applied the dye. Shown here are 440 yards of sockweight merino (recent Knitpicks transgression) dyed mostly green with a shot of magenta -- do I see a small lacy shawl?! Next up is light-weight yarn spun from dyed roving which you see here wound on the ballwinder to show the colors (sort of!). The piece of roving that this yarn was made from went from orange to red to pinky purple to pale blue to dark green to lime. I split it in half, spun two bobbins of singles, trying to make each length of each color on each bobbin about the same, then plied them so that colors matched as much as possible so that the finished yarn goes from orange through the above mentioned color sequence to green...kind of like Noro yarn. The roving on the right is mostly blue/eggplant and rusty orange/red!