Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Art for art's sake

We interrupt our regular schedule of "fluff which I have turned into yarn whilst completely failing to actually watch any of the Tour de France except for half an hour the other weekend", because this weekend, the boy and I went on an expedition (or two) that we'd been looking forward to for a while.

Our destination? The Art In Action festival at Waterperry House near Oxford that ran from Thursday through until yesterday.  I'm not really too sure what the house looks like when the festival isn't there because every spare inch of grass appeared to be taken up with tents; tents for displays, tents filled with demonstrating artists, a massive craft marketplace and smaller materials tent, and best of all, a huge range of taster sample classes.

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Given that my metier is fabric and yarn and a bit of jewellery making, and H paints and draws we decided from the get-go that we had only two rules:

(a) the class had to have two spaces left; and
(b) neither of us could have tried it before.

And this is how, on a sunny Saturday afternoon I found myself sat at a table in the corner of a marquee facing a glass tumbler, and what looked (and sounded) very like one of my dentist's drills.

We had two tumblers to work on in our glass engraving class, one to practice and one for the real thing.  The practice was all about making neat lines and shapes, although it is true that my practice veered away from the strictly geometric:
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And my practice shaded circle started to look so like something rather familiar, that it acquired a set of needles to go with it:
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For the 'real' glass I'd love to claim I just pulled a butterfly out of thin air, but my drawing just isn't on that level, so I copied a pattern with glass carbon and traced carefully round it, tip of my tongue in my teeth.
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H's glass has an owl (with wonderful eyes) and two storks, just the thing to have staring back at you from your breakfast orange juice!
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Sunday was another day and another tent.
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And probably as close as we ever got to an existing hobby - a class with the Prince's School of Traditional Arts on Traditional Painting Techniques.  We learnt all about pigments and alchemical history and which rocks to grind up to make which colours, how to make an egg tempura paint, and how to make pigments into oils or watercolours.

To put it all into practice we painted a Tudor rose with egg tempura onto gesso board, carefully layering up the different paints to give the richness and depth that you see in old paintings.
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Considering it was essentially a 'trace and paint by numbers' exercise it was amazing how different every rose turned out.  My rose became a little more floral, copying the style from an unfinished manuscript found at Hampton Court, and H (overcoming resistance at the idea of painting what to him seems a purely lancastrian rose) went all out on the red and filled in his white lines over and over again until they almost seem silver.
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From something that tilted very much to H's side of the craft spectrum, we counterbalanced the other way, with what was probably our joint favourite class of both days, and something that if I had the space I'd take up in an instant - glass enamelling.

This was my inner colour magpie's idea of heaven; take a copper disk, choose your base colour and fire it and then play with all the colours of the rainbow to make either a pendant or a key ring:
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(H's efforts are on the left, mine on the right).
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This was my 'proper' piece, a lime green base that perfectly matches my sandals and the leaf pattern was rubber stamped on and then the powdered terracotta glass added  to stick to the wet ink (a bit like embossing in card making but with a kiln).  I thought about building it up with different colours but in the end decided that I liked it just the way it was so I moved on to another two colour design:
July 179
Autumn leaves onto copper.

As I said, seriously addictive - imagine making your own enamelled buttons to match your latest knitting .... OK must be sensible: "We do not have room for a kiln, We do not have room for a kiln, We do not have room for a kiln ..."

And speaking of kilns ....
July 183

There was pottery.  I'm afraid to admit we nearly skipped out on this class - the tents were getting muggy and unpleasant and the entrance to the pottery workshop was filled with barging children and parents who seem to have forgotten that pregnant girls can't 'just squeeze in a bit'.  I wouldn't want the job of the guy trying to regulate the traffic!  Our pottery teacher was wonderful and if I detected a bit of a sigh of relief that she finally had two adults to talk to, who can blame her - we all exchanged a silent glance of camaraderie when Telephoto-lens Dad all but fell into our wheel leaning over to take a picture of his super special snowflake on our other side.

For a first bash we're surprisingly pleased with our results - my bowl is the one with the dots, H's is the 'man bowl' at the back and the 'useful pot to put things in' (also an H creation) suffers from inner wobbliness only because my beloved accidentally put his finger through it.  Pottery is wonderfully messy and splatty and really it's the grown up version of making mud pies or sandcastles and I could see myself trying a full on evening course - I've just got to wait until I can bend enough to get nearer the wheel!

In one of those wonderful moments of serendipity, a friend of my parents is a very talented potter and has his own kiln, and he has very kindly agreed to fire the pots for us - H is going to keep his paintbrushes in the useful pot if it survives a journey to the westcountry and a trip through the kiln!

And last but not least - I know I said that enamelling was my favourite class, but it may not have been my absolute favourite part of the weekend.  There is just a tiny possibility that my heart was stolen (via my stomach) by this:

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There was a Belgian waffle stand. And they were perfect.  We shared a strawberry waffle each day for the perfect touch of summer - dee-lish

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Boozy Refreshment for the Pregnant

I always thought that if I had to choose a season of the year in which to be free from all the charming eating and drinking restrictions of modern day pregnancy it would be Christmas; Christmas with the port, and the sherry and the cool glass of Christmas day fizz, and the stilton, oh the stilton.

Now I think I've changed my mind - you can recreate some cocktails sans kick, but if anyone knows of a way to make virgin Pimms (that's more than a glass of lemonade with a few strawberries in it), please let me know; it's definitely Pimms season and I'd love a glass, almost as much as I want a large slice of brie on fresh crusty bread.

Still, enough complaining, I wouldn't swap the little bear for the world, let alone a brie sandwich with Pimms on the side, however often he or she decides that I really really need to hear the dawn chorus. At 5am.  And I have found a summer tipple substitute - summer tipple yarn:
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The latest Tour de Fleece offering, another Purldrop Studios mini batt in Blue Martini.
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Ice blue to Midnight blue with plenty of sparkle and all the colours of hazy summer sky in between.
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I spun it up from light to dark working in strips down the batt at something a smidgen thicker than I spin a sock yarn, and when that was done I navajo plied the bobbin to preserve the colour changes.

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It's the first time I've used navajo plying for a whole skein, rather than just using up the ends of bobbins and I think it's very effective on colour changes, I just need to remember to relax and let my fingers do their work without over thinking the process.

The one thing I haven't worked out is quite how to pause mid plying but happily I didn't have to move and got the whole thing finished in one fell swoop.

Finished result: 162 yards of sock weight ish merino/firestar that has a calling to be a hat.

In the meantime, well it wouldn't be me if I didn't go for the obvious cheesy shot would it?
July 159
It's the nearest I've got to a Martini glass!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Not spinning but plying

There's something incredibly satisfying when at the end of three bobbins-worth of fine spinning you get to set them up on the lazy kate and treadle away, watching the bobbin quickly fill up with your lovely new yarn.

I never know quite how it's going to turn out until that moment, and usually there's still a fair amount of insecurity; I know I loved the fibre but will I like the finished yarn in the same way, or will it all be muddy and bland, not the crazy joyful bundle of colours in the braid.

Happily, this time I started with a braid that looked aglow, and finished with yarn that is pure summer:
July 117
A crazy vibrant orange that I'll only ever get away with as socks, that mixes copper, gold, saffron, chartreuse and hot fuchsia pink in a valiant bid to be the loudest sock yarn in the stash.
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It is perhaps a measure of how much I enjoy this finished yarn, that I couldn't stop taking photos of it
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And even when I could, I couldn't decide which ones I liked the best so I plumped for putting most of them up onto flickr.
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The fibre was a 4oz Falkland braid from Spindlefrog and had no colour name, so I name it 'Sunshine'. 

It's the colour of orange ice-lollies from the freezer after school, the Soltan bottle slightly faded around the edges from one too many trips to the beach, the sun-umbrella on the patio, the sea viewed through a cool pint balanced on the wall outside the pub, and the snapdragons and pansies in my front flower bed (revived after a good few rainstorms this week), with just a hint of the glint off my grandmother's hostess trolley as she wheeled it across the top lawn laden with the tea tray and glasses of lemonade, and the brass sundial that now stands in that same garden, a testament to four people who between them and over many years have built that house and love that garden.
July 126
I've got 362 yards (plus 40 yards of navajo ply from the leftovers on the bobbins), and it's going to make a fabulous pair of socks.
July 127

Monday, July 12, 2010

Magnum Opus

A rare and unlikely thing has occurred - I may actually be lost for words.  May I then very simply present something that I think may be a serious contender for the best thing I have ever knit:
July 078
Point Reyes is finished.

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I love the colours and the bloom of the yarn after a good wash and block, and the whales and boats and lighthouses.  There just isn't a bad thing to say about this project except that it is such a shame that Pacific Coast Highway is out of print because now only people who had the foresight to buy the book, or people who have lovely friends with said foresight who were kind enough to lend the book get the chance to make this oh so pretty blanket.

When I last interrupted the daily spinning commentary I was hard at work at the border which, according to the pattern, should be the last bit of knitting on the blanket.  The pattern tells you to trim the steeks and then neatly cross stitch them to the reverse. Well whereas I can knit a cardigan and not feel the need to 'fringe' any remaining loose steeks, I'd be unrealistic to expect such a level of control from my baby so we needed a little bit more than some neat cross stitch, however sticky and shetland the wool may be.
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For anyone that may have been concerned, this is the state of one of the steeks after I had knit not only the border but also my facings - the edge stitches are the ones which I cut along, and they look slightly fluffy - see how generations of Scottish and Scandinavian knitters have not been having us on!

My plan for little facings to cover the steek was filched in its entirety from a Rainey Sisters post from 2007. Sally made another Alice Starmore - the Cats and Mice blanket and added neat little facings each side to cover the steek by picking up the same stitch as the border had been picked up through and then knitting a few rounds of pattern with steeks at top and bottom (she explains it much better than I do though).

The border is picked up through one half of the pattern edge stitches so I did a little experiment to see how best to pick up for the facings:
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Option 1 picked up through the same half stitch as the border pick ups:
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Option 2 picked up through the other half of the stitch:
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And Option 3 picked up through both halves of the edge stitch and was declared the winner:
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I think that in practice, any one of them would have worked but the last one looked the neatest on the finished facing and seemed to naturally lie the flattest - at least as far as you can tell with little flappy samples.

I cast on 4 stitches, then picked up (through both legs of the stitch) all of the edge stitches that had been picked up for the border (245 stitches in a rhythm set by the original pattern), then cast on 8 stitches for the bottom steek, picked up another 245 up the other side, and cast on a final four.  I picked up stitches on what would eventually have looked like the wrong side if I'd kept knitting so that the little purl bumps from the pick up didn't get stuck being lumpy under the facing and the I reversed the knitting direction just after I joined the top steek to knit in the round.

I knit the wave repeat from the main pattern (with one little added extra) and then cast off and cut the top and bottom steeks.

Once I'd trimmed the long steeks a little for neatness I found it quite helpful to give the facings a little press with a steam iron (underneath a pressing cloth) just to get them sitting nicely and then I pinned the facings in place and got to it with a darning needle, tacking the facing down onto the loose strands at the back of the fairisle:
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And that's really all there was to it.  You can't see the facings, or any evidence of their existence from the front, the added bulk is minimal, and yet when you turn it over:
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A few little waves greet you.

And a little addition on one of the other corners:

July 081
I can't add the baby's name because if I waited to do the facings until I had the baby, he or she would be more of a university student by the time they got a finished blanket, but as I am fairly certain that little bear will be making an appearance before the end of December, I've added his or her year of birth which at the very least will eliminate any doubt as to whose blanket it is in the event of there being some beary brothers or sisters down the line.
From the front, a yacht race in what must be some of the most treacherous racing conditions out there if they're dodging lighthouses and whales like that:
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From the back, all neat and tidy.
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If I were to change anything it would perhaps be to improve my fairisle technique; I think I'm overly cautious about catching floats and I could probably leave them to run a lot longer, and as a result there are little hints of red peeking through some of my pale blue, and certainly the back doesn't have that negative image of the front that you see so often, but maybe I should just accept that as my 'Persian Carpet' moment.
The thing that really surprised me (other than how huge it is), is how light it feels as a finished blanket.  Porting it round the house and turning it round and round on my lap felt like a bit hefty piece of textile but this finished piece is soft and flowing - it makes me wonder just how much sweat and dirt I washed out of it - I suppose it had been on the needles since March.

I love it unashamedly and I'm so pleased I saved it to make for my baby, because I could not bear to give this away.
July 092
It is truly a high point.

But there is just one last tip I want to share with you - it cannot have escaped the attention of anyone in the UK that it's been a touch warm recently, and with my inner radiator a constant companion I've been one of those people feeling especially pink around the edges.  Here is my salvation, and my other constant companion while finishing this blanket:
July 075
Pure bliss!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Le Tour - again

I'm really going to have to think up some new and alternative blogpost headings! Anyway, I'm still riding, and by the happy virtue of the weekend removing the requirement for me to go to work (yippee), and I've finished the baby's blanket (double yippee), I've spent a good deal more time at the wheel.

Day 7 concluded with the first of what will be three bobbins of sock yarn:

July 059
Pure sunshine in fibre!

And with Day 8 dawning bright and early (thanks baby), I decided to tackle another tour aim - a singles yarn.

With hindsight I might have been better choosing a beautiful smooth pre-drafted batt as my first attempt but on the basis that if no one tells you it's meant to be hard you'll never know, I went right ahead with this:
July 052
A 50g Rockpool Candy batt called Marble Bag, a mix of merino, silk, corridale and banana.  In real terns that's some lovely soft fibre and a whole heap of slubby bits in various colours - think of those old fashioned glass marbles with twists in the middle and you get where we're going with this one.

the general instructions for a singles yarn is low twist, high take up, and go slowly so I set the Sonata up with the drive band on the biggest wheel on the flyer and the scotch tension on nice and firmly and tried to treadle really slowly.  I think next time I try this I might find some really laid back music to put on the Ipod as a metronome because I had to keep reminding myself to slow down.
One bobbin's worth of very slow treadling later, it looked a bit like this:
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It was with some trepidation that I skeined it up on the niddy-noddy - I was fairly certain that we had more than enough twist that it wasn't going to come apart in my hands, but I was a bit worried about being overtwisted, even though I know you can just run it through the wheel in the other direction to take out anything too vicious.

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Straight off the wheel you can see it still has a fair amount of energy to it - although not as much as I was expecting at one stage. I finished it off following some instructions from Spunky Eclectic by filling my little yarn washing bowl with hot water with a smidge of Eucalan and the sink with blissfully cold water.  The skein went into the hot then cold, then hot then cold again with a good bit of swirling in each followed by my favourite snap and thwack against the kitchen cupboards.  With the heat we had yesterday the mist of tiny raindrops that flew out of the snapping yarn was pure heaven I promise!

The strands of yarn were just starting to try to stick to each other when I hung it up - now hanging nice and straight.

A few hours drying on the line, and I have yarn:
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Gorgeous, soft, and remarkably consistent yarn.
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This is 156 yards, and I think on the lighter end of DK weight.  I asked H whether he thought it would suit me as as hat but he thinks it's more his colours so I think I may have already lost this one - I know he wants a pair of full mittens for the winter so perhaps eeked out with a little contrast yarn I might just have enough.
July 069

Next up - more sock yarn spinning - I'm alternating for variety!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Left handed learning

Fear not! I have not fallen exhausted from my spinning wheel and been discovered lying prostrate on the floor of the conservatory by my husband, the twist still firmly held in my pincer grip while soft pink and orange BFL dust bunnies roam around the room, clinging gently but persistently to the salty sweat on my furrowed brow.

I have however been spinning, and knitting, and eating ice-cream (it's been hot, what's a girl to do?), and there are a few pink and orange dust bunnies courtesy of this:

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Blue Faced Leicester from Spindlefrog (who no longer seems to have an etsy shop) which came from Wonderwool 2009.  I know I said I didn't want to spin just sock yarn, but at the same time I know what to do with a skein of sock yarn, so it's all about balance.  That and this fibre has been calling my name because it reminds me of sunsets and ice-lollies.

Day 3 of the Tour looked like this:
July 039
And days 4, 5 and 6 look remarkably similar, except for the addition of a little patch of red, a good patch of pinky purple and a return to that glowing orange.  I have spun every day so far, usually while supper was cooking, and as that's really all I was aiming for I'm a happy member of the Peleton.

The distraction from the spinning (and housework and other useful things) has presented itself in the form of my current knitting crush - the little bear's Point Reyes blanket.
As you've seen, you knit the middle as a tube with steeks, cut it up the centre and the next stage is to pick up and knit the border all the way around. So that the border doesn't curl, it isn't pure stocking stitch, one row is 2x2 colour knitting, and the next is 2x2 purling.  Yes that's right, two colour purling, remembering to keep the loose yarn at the back for somewhere between 850 and 900 stitches. Eeek

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The resulting pattern is a gorgeous nubbly texture that will be just the thing to keep little baby hands interested - but the purling...!

My default knitting setting is to knit and purl English-style (ie right handed) and I've taught myself to knit colourwork two handed with enough speed and 'flow' that I enjoy it, but I've never really needed to learn to properly purl left-handed because I'll either work in the round and steek, or it'll just be the odd stitch that needs a purl so it doesn't break the rhythm too much or too often.

I think I could have worked out a way to work the border mosaic-style, purling one colour and slipping the other and then going round and repeating with the other colour but being a glutton for punishment I decided that 3,500 purl stitches (ish) was the perfect opportunity to make myself learn, and it worked, with a little help from the internets.

The most useful site I found was part of Knitting Help which has really good videos of someone purling continental style which helped me to adjust how I thread the yarn through my left hand to tension and which finger to use as the lead.  Both needed to change from how I knit with my left hand and made a huge difference to getting the tension even.

Progress has been slow and steady but as there are only 8 checkerboard rounds on the border, it's all finished now and I've just got a small matter of some steek facings and a bit of tidying up and blocking before I can declare it finished!  Watch this space.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Le Tour

Yesterday marked the start of a very special and important fixture in the sporting calendar; the start of the Tour de Fleece 2010 in which spinners around the world challenge themselves to all sorts of spinning feats including most importantly, the commitment to spin each day of the tour; 3 -25 July 2010 (with a few rest days thrown in for good measure and to prevent ankle and shin injuries from too much furious pedalling).

Rather sportingly, a group of cyclists have decided to play along too and have set off on a little road trip around France! And if you think I might have got that the wrong way around, just remember - who had wheels first - the spinners (13th century) or the bikers (19th century) - clearly it's Fleece before France.

Seeing as this is my first year spinning the tour and I have also got a number of baby blankets to make, both for the little Bear and friends and relatives, I've tried not to set myself too many aims, but for the sake of posterity (and so that we can all have a good giggle when I crash and burn on Day 3), here we go:

1 - Spin every day of the tour (rest days on 12 and 21 July).
2 - Spin from the stash, with particular focus on the mini batts and other fun bits and pieces that I don't really know what I want to knit with them; spin just to make pretty yarn.
3 - Spin a singles yarn.
4 - Don't just spin sock yarn.
So far I've spun on Days 1 and 2 (otherwise I would deny all knowledge of participation), and in keeping with aim number 2, I started with a sparkly mini batt:

April 265
It's the one on the far left, from Faith's shop Purldrop Studios, called Florida Tidepools which is a blend of merino and firestar for added twinkle.
July 020
I opened the batt up, divided it into two by weight and then spun each half from pale green to deep turquoise.  The original batt reminded me so much of a wave arching over you to break and I wanted to preserve that feeling in the finished yarn.

Day 1's bobbin looked like this:
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and today I did the other half:
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I've spun these singles fairly thickly to give a nice bouncy 2ply and (having ignored all knowledge of the merits of letting yarn rest on the bobbin on the basis that it had all been spun within the previous 24 hours), I did a little plying:
July 028
You can see from the bobbin how the finished yarn runs through the colour wave.  Most of the intense turquoise is underneath but basically one end is that deep peacocky colour and then it blends and fades to this pale soft green, sparkling in the sunlight all the way.
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This isn't the best picture of the finished yarn because I hadn't washed and blocked it yet, but you get the idea.  I have 96 yarns of what I think is aran weight (it was 1.4 oz of fibre so that seems about right) and if I can find the right contrast colour then I'm thinking some sort of faux fairisle might be in its future so make the most of the colour shift.

The fibre spun like a dream and was beautifully prepared so I'm really looking forward to trying out the other two.

And the best bit - after my two previous trips to Florida were, well I was going to say 'interesting and unusual' but I ended up in hospital both times so I'm going with 'disastrous', it's nice to have something beautiful to remind me of the good bits.  Hey, Sunshine State - third time lucky eh!