Tuesday, May 1, 2018

What a Difference

Dear Mom,
Mother Nature finally managed to bless us with 6 consecutive days of sunshine. I cannot remember a more dismal spring- with November gray days, snow, rain, and wind chills. I was suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) symptoms in April! But what a difference a day or two of sunshine can make. It was still chilly (I was dressed in layers with a wool scarf and headband) but with the sun shining and John, Dear freshly returned from his annual checkup- blades sharpened and spark plugs sparking- I was finally able to get out and mow.

Spring is way behind schedule here on the cul-de-sac. I wander out seeking signs of new growth, buds, blossoms. I see the green spikes of my Lily of the Valley emerging, and the Trillium is up but hasn't bloomed. The redbud trees are just starting to bloom and the serviceberries look like they will any day now.  Early in April, feeling cheated of spring, I ordered 200 bulbs to plant this fall for next spring- If all goes according to plan I'll have drifts of siberian squill and snowdrops in the backyard borders.
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Today, I'll hang sheets to dry on the clothesline.
Tonight, we'll sleep on crisp sheets fragrant with spring sunshine.

The cold weather did allow me an opportunity to wear my most recently finished project. When I started this, I didn't imagine wearing it until late next autumn.

 This is Isager's Tokyo Shawl, in the dark colorway. Rather than knitting garter stitch borders as the pattern instructs, I worked an icord edge along with the body of the shawl so I could hide the yarn tails in the tube created by the icord. 
I've a pretty cardigan on my needles, which I will share as soon as there is something photo-worthy to share. And Donna Reed is getting dressed with a lovely dusty blue and white set of towels.

Off to enjoy the sunshine!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


Dear Mom,
Well, that was an unexpectedly long break from blogging. I never intended to be away this long, but I let things get in the way and as it turns out, unlike sugar, blogging is a habit that is easy to drop.
All is well here, and when I last posted, we were anticipating the cool temps of autumn. It is now April and we are still experiencing Sweater Weather. Yesterday we woke to find about 3 inches of wet snow on the ground and clinging, beautifully, to the branches.

 This morning we were awakened (and lulled back to sleep) by loud rumbles of thunder. Between the snow melt and the heavy rains I am looking out on a temporary creek and pond in the backyard. It seems everything is delayed in blossoming here. The trees have only just started to bud and there are no signs of blooms on the forsythia.

Most of my winter was spent helping dear Olive recover from TPLO surgery to her right knee. She finished off the canine equivalent of the ACL on Christmas and had surgery in January.

We had gates up through the house to keep her contained in the kitchen. No running, jumping or climbing for 6 weeks. And on leash for visits to the back yard. Rugs were purchased and strategically placed to keep her from slipping. It was all a bit nerve racking. But she bore the cone of shame with as much dignity as a black beast is able and was a good patient. I built a knitting nest for myself in the kitchen to spend as much time with her as I could.

Thankfully, restrictions have been lifted and her leg is getting stronger. The gates are put away and the rugs are rolled up and stored. I asked the surgeon what our odds of seeing him again are: 50/50. Better than I'd thought. I really hope we don't have to go through that again on the left knee. 

All that kitchen confinement restricted my time in Sweet Haven and Donna Reed (and blogging). I am making up for all that lost weaving time. I'd started a project in November-  Before The Knee Event. I think that project was doomed from the start. I acted on an idea without doing all my homework- rushed through the process. Ordered fiber, then had to order more because I'd not even ordered enough for warp threads. Then dressing the loom had to happen in fits and starts when I could make time. Once Olive was free to use the stairs, we settled in to weave. I was attempting to weave some linen napkins. I realized pretty quickly that ThingsWereNotGoingWell. I stopped to consider whether to carry on or trust my gut- which was telling me (shouting actually) that the napkin was about to be a table runner. I modified the Pattern and wove what I hoped would be 4 lovely natural colored linen napkins. I ran out of warp at 3 napkins. They looked and felt like burlap. Stiff, bullet proof burlap. Discouraged, but not willing to "throw in the towel"-haha- I threw them into the washing machine, hoping that a softening miracle would happen. Wrong. I threw them away and began questioning why I even have a loom. I let the wrong combination of project and fiber get to me. I won't let myself consider the time and money wasted. Lesson learned. I've successfully woven napkins in the past and will do so again.

The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.
~ E. J. Phelps

Bruised and nearly defeated, I decided to go back to weaving what I love best and the reasons for my wanting to weave in the first place- dishtowels. I am very happy weaving dishtowels and feel such satisfaction in the process, in giving them and in using them.  I sat down and took time to do all the preparation calculations, and started weaving 6 lovely lilac dishtowels. Followed by another set of cheerful yellow dishtowels, and last night I finished another half-dozen colorful towels to finish off some partial cones of cotton. All that is left is hemming on the yellow and striped sets. 

My weaving confidence is somewhat restored. My reaction to my failed project has me pondering.Why do I feel I must do more than "just weave dishtowels" without feeling like I am somehow failing.  I DO want to learn more- I'd hate to be a One Trick Pony, but is it really settling for less if I weave beautiful, useful towels AND I feel contentment and enjoyment doing it? 

For the past few years, MelissaWhoSpins and I have selected a WORD for the year. Something to inspire us or to focus on throughout that year. This year my word is GROUNDWORK. As evidenced by those bulletproof napkins, I often hurry through things I don't like spending time on (like math. or cooking dinner) and end up creating messes for myself and feeling harried. I know this rushed habit comes from my belief in Not Wasting Time. But I've come to realize rushing often is a waste of time, that feeling panicked and frustrated is not a good use of time or how I want to feel in the short time I have on earth.  I've decided to take more time for the Groundwork- taking time for the prep, getting everything ready before I begin, feeling a sense of calm when I start a project or start cooking, or whatever. It's working. Groundwork may be my best word yet.

I'll be back soon! I promise.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

In the Air

Dear Mom,
Can you feel it? I do!

Tis the Season. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The nip in the air that validates and justifies my wool knitting obsession. I am no fan of Old Man Winter, but Autumn is my favorite. Even gray damp autumn days are soothing to my soul. Soup. Wool Socks.

While I resisted wearing a heavy wool cardigan yesterday, I did wrap myself in a wool shawl today so I could sit outside on the porch and read. Comfort. Bliss. Heaven.

It isn't cold enough for my latest finished knit, but my Bressay Dress will be ready when it is.

yes, I stood on a chair to take this shot

Elle is artfully modelling on the shawl I brought home from my Scotland trip last year. I made this dress specifically for this shawl.
The dress is supposed to have pockets, which are cute, and I practically worship pockets, but in this case I fear the extra bulk where I already have extra bulk. So my Bressay Dress may remain pocketless.

I was recently reminded of a book series I enjoyed. For some reason, I thought the series had ended and last week I discovered I was mistaken. The author is Anne Perry and it was her William Monk series I'd "finished".  I am not sure when I ended the series, so I'll go back to the beginning and work through them.  The same author has another series -she is certainly a prolific writer, God Bless Her!- featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. Until yesterday, I had not read any of that series and when I went online to borrow the first Monk book I decided to give the Pitt books a try. Well. I am here to say that I  could NOT put The Cater Street Hangman down. I haven't felt that way about a book since the last Outlander book was published. I got online to borrow the second book as soon as I finished. I am content knowing there are many many books in both the Monk and Pitt series and I'll have plenty of good reading to look forward to!


p.s. The Cater Street Hangman  is a murder mystery, but not a gruesome or too-scary-to-sleep one. Set in Victorian London.  I'll say no more.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mrs Story

Dear Mom,
When I moved into my Sweet Haven last year, creating a place to create, I was using a small folding table as a station for watercolors and other crafting.

 I've been keeping a lookout for an appropriately unique workstation with personality. I'd looked at vintage kitchen tables, like this one, at antique stores.

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 I'd considered buying a second hand wood table and only using 1/2 the table, securing the legless edge to the wall.  But nothing struck me as the Right Thing.

Until Monday, when the Young Lady spied this metal teacher's desk at the Goodwill.

For $25. TWEN-TY FIVE Dollars.


I briefly wondered if my Young Lady was just sick of me looking for a work station, but she confessed that IF I didn't give this desk a new home, she would have purchased and stored it until she could.

As I am frequently inspired to do, I've named my desk. She is Mrs. Story, in honor of my favorite elementary school teacher. I have more memories of 5th grade than all my elementary and Junior High school years, combined. Mrs. Story played The Carpenter's LP's when we were having quiet work time. She gave a Brach's butterscotch candy to those of us who ate all our lunches.  To this day, Brach's butterscotch is a special treat and a touchstone to happy times. When, during a discussion about "health" (I am pretty sure it was after THE FILM, and we were given the chance to ask questions) one of the boys asked if "skin stretched". I will NEVER forget her amused "Oh believe me, skin stretches!" answer. I am not sure I got then why she thought that was funny, but I sure do now.

My Mrs. Story has been scrubbed clean and is moved in and happy in her new home. Sweet Haven was in desperate need of a good cleaning and reorganization, and it was a nice interruption in the current ReturnToCollege Preparations that are going on here. If ever there was a time I needed a Place of my Own and some comfort knitting, this is it.


Monday, August 14, 2017

The Fruits of My Labor

Dear Mom,

Sibella Cardigan

Lavender soap in a wool soap sock.
This will be a hostess gift. 

I spent a hot, sweaty afternoon canning tomatoes.
This is the first 6 pints. 

I spent that same sweaty afternoon making Ina Garten's
Roasted Tomato Basil soup, with fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden.
We'll have a taste of summer's bounty this winter!
These yellow pear tomatoes are my favorites!


I am collecting a freezing these yummy blackberries for a future dessert.
This is Market Jacket. I used Bartlett yarn - Coral Heather, and finished knitting this in about 2 weeks.

Washed, blocked and waiting for buttons.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Solar Dyeing

Dear Mom,
My experiments with solar dyeing have been most successful and satisfying! Armed with hope and NO expectations, I decided that the fiber in the box and the dye materials sitting on the shelf were more of a waste and failure than any failed dye experiment would be. Mine were not exacting scientific experiements- they were more of the WhatTheHeckLet'sSeeWhatHappens variety.
I pre-mordanted my fiber with alum, and except for the last experiment, with Logwood, I did not weigh and measure the alum/fiber ratio.

I dyed in approximate 2 ounce batches because that is what I could easily fit into my 1 gallon sun tea and pickle jars. I placed the fiber into mesh laundry bags before I started and they stayed in the bags until the fiber was dry at the end.

First, I used a sachet of osage orange saw dust. I let the saw dust steep to color the water and then added the wet fiber. I left the sachet in the jar and put the jar in a sunny spot on the back patio. When the fiber was nice and bright, I gave it a good rinse, spun out the excess water and hung the bag of fiber up to dry. I repeated this 4 more times until the resulting fiber was pretty pale. I ended up with about 10 ounces dyed a nice gradient of yellows from sunshiny bright to buttery.

Okay! So that worked! Next up- Madder Root. I dumped the package of chopped up madder root into my rinsed out jar, filled the jar with water and let it sit in the sunshine. The water very quickly turned a beet juice color. In went the wet fiber. And out came this:
This color is ME. 
I was able to get 2 more batches out of that same jar. Again, each successive batch was slightly lighter than the last, but each is beautiful. I couldn't wait to start spinning.

You can see the variation in the dye batches in this next photo. 

When I've used heat and crockpots to dye fiber in the past, I found the fiber to be slightly felt-ish. Not so with this solar powered method! This spun up without any hassles. The only thing I would do differently if I were to do this again, would be to put the madder roots into a small mesh bag rather than let them float around in the jar with the fiber. 

On to Logwood. I used up the last of my merino/mohair roving on this. Again, I wasn't sure what to expect. Research showed me I could expect lavender to gray. Research also told me that I would want to use a higher alum to fiber ratio, so this time I weighed my fiber and measured 20% alum as pre-mordant. 

The Logwood chips I had were the size of cinnamon sticks. Having learned from the loose Madder root, I placed the logwood chips into a small mesh bag in the jar. The other minor departure from the first 2 experiments was to pour boiling water into the jars. I let the logwood steep for a day before adding the fiber, and divided the juice into 2 jars, topped them off with hose water and added the fiber. The water was a fuchsia pink/purple.

The last batch was the palest of pink. Lovely. I can hardly wait to spin it!

I have some weld on the shelf, and it is the last of my natural dyestuff. I have a healthy stash of white merino/angora roving that I could use, but that roving might be too precious to experiment with.  And just this afternoon I learned that blackberries give a very nice purple dye. IF I tire of eating blackberries from my garden.

I would say my experiments were successful. I think I'll get rid of the various dye pots and crockpots on my dye shelf and continue solar dyeing my fiber in the future. Until then, I have lots of exciting spinning projects!


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

These have not been lazy days

Dear Mom,

This Song is mocking me. These have been anything but lazy. A few days of hot and hazy and a little bit crazy.  I keep hoping to settle into a soothing routine, but it hasn't happened yet. The last few days have been perfect - like northern Michigan weather- and I am spending as much of it as I can on the porch.

I've been making up for last summer's convalescence by weeding, planting, mowing and tending the yard, herb garden, tomato plants and perennial garden. I've squeezed as many annuals and perennials into my flower garden as it will hold. I've got zinnias growing with my tomatoes, and a variety of seeds sown amongst the sage, basil, oregano and chives in my herb garden. The bunnies have probably eaten 90% of the seedlings as they emerge, but I remain hopeful of full vases of freshly cut flowers on my table.

We've finally had a persistent and mysterious leak located and repaired, and things were definitely disrupted while that was going on. Just getting stuff temporarily moved out of one room made me think I never want to have to really move. Needless to say, Goodwill got a hefty load and the room is put back together.  While that was going on, I wiped my week clean of appointments to be here. I needed to see with my own eyes that things stayed dry as our contractor doused the area with the hose and I didn't want to miss it.

Things were is such disarray that I didn't feel like I could add to it with a sewing project, but I did weave some dish towels.

I happened to have the book, A Garden to Dye For, from the library, and something I read inspired me to try a "sun tea" dye experiment. I have a variety of purchased plant dye stuff from fiber festivals- osage orange, madder, logwood and weld. The garage was occupied by the contractor's equipment, so using my crockpots was not an option. I also had a 'What Are You Waiting For?' feeling about the full shelf of dye stuff and decided it was more wasteful to have it all sitting there doing nothing than it would be to use it in a failed experiment. I filled a gallon jar with water, plopped the cloth bag of osage orange sawdust into it, and let it steep. In the meantime, I put about 2 oz of roving (70%merino/30%mohair) into a mesh laundry bag and let it soak in a second gallon jar with alum to pre-mordant the fiber. (Mordants help the fiber accept and keep the dye. Also, different mordants can alter the final color of the dye.) Once my osage orange tea was a nice bright color, I added the fiber and let it sit in the sunshine. 
I let the fiber steep for a day or two, took it out and carefully rinsed it with water as close to the temperature of the dye bath as I could manage. The fiber stayed in the mesh bag through the entire process to protect it from too much handling. I did not remove the osage orange tea bag, nor did I dump the dye out of the jar. Part of my experiment was to see how much fiber I could dye with this one batch. 
This is the first batch, rinsed and dried. Beautiful! I ended up dyeing 5 (2 oz) batches in total, and they very gently fade in a gradient of bright to buttery yellow. This process might be slow, but it was easy, used no electricity, and was fun to watch. Best thing: the fiber is not sticking to itself. When I've dyed roving in the crockpot, it seems like it wants to felt. I think the shock of the heat and simmering does that to the loose fiber. I've not had that happen to yarn dyed in the crockpot.  Plus, spinning dyed roving makes a prettier yarn than dyeing already spun yarn, in my opinion. 

I am currently using the same process using Madder.  I'll share the results soon!

Enjoy the sunshine!