Witches, Wool & Other Things

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November 6, 2009: Almost six months since I have updated the Lair Log? I can hardly believe it.  I have neglected this site for the same reasons mentioned at the beginning of my last entry. Life has a way of intruding on my plans and this year has been no exception.

Among the things that nurture me most are gifts from nature. Finally, after a terribly long dry spell and days and days of triple digit temperatures this last summer, we got some rain. I looked out the window one morning last month and SIX Eastern Bluebirds were bathing in a puddle in our driveway. I did not know we had six bluebirds on the place! They had a wonderful time, flew away, and I have not seen them since. There is always something interesting, though. Early one morning I glanced out the window and there was a mama fox trotting across the yard, tail streaming straight out, and behind her trotted a perfect miniature duplicate--a single kit fox. That was such a treat, and I only regret that they were moving too fast for me to grab my camera. The Indigo Buntings visited again, just three of them, and I have not seen them again. Today, though, there were five wild ducks in our almost full pond. We have not yet been able to identify them, although we took the scope out and got a good look at them, and have numerous guide books and excellent software to help us identify birds. It is not often that we cannot identify ducks in our wildlife pond. I may take my 400 lens and camera out tomorrow if they are still there.

I have been spinning, and have spun up almost all of the fiber that I had on hand. I decided that since my dad used to grow absolutely beautiful cotton on Bend Field Farm I needed to learn to spin cotton. Cotton has a reputation of being somewhat difficult to spin. It is often spun on a supported hand spindle called a Tahkli; the Tahkli is spun in a ceramic bowl and the cotton has to be drafted out one-handed. When I was ordering an extra bowl the delightful vendor said, "Rheba life is too short to spin cotton, but if you are determined I will sell this to you." Here is the Tahkli:

The spindle is spun upright, with the point in the dimple in the middle of the bottom of the bowl
and the upper shaft within the circle of the thumb and forefinger of the spinning hand
and the yarn is pulled out of the fiber held at an angle in the other hand. It is not an
easy task and I certainly have not mastered it. The fiber in this picture is organic pima cotton.
Tahkli spindles are known for spinning a very fine thread or yarn. Mine is still too thick and crudely
spun. I like to do this while watching football or baseball or one of my favorite shows on TV.

My other new spindle is not necessarily designed for spinning cotton. It is a Navajo spindle, used by the Navajo Indians to spin the  wool yarn for their beautiful rugs. I had thought this spindle would be very difficult to master, but it proved to be very user friendly and I enjoy using it. I plan to use it to spin wool, but since I was working on cotton, I decided to play with it spinning cotton. It does not have a hook on the end, and the yarn comes off the point with a satisfying "thump-thump " sound.

Navajo Spincle
The Navajo Spindle. It is a supported spindle
and I bought one long enough to sit in a chair while using it;
many use one suitable for sitting on the floor.
The shaft is rolled up the thigh and while it is spinning,
it is  lifted in the curve of the fingers
and returned to the beginning of the stroke;
the secret is to keep the spindle spinning while rolling it repeatedly on the thigh.
Except for my Bosworth spindles, this is my favorite spindle, and I like
to spin with it under the same circumstances mentioned above.
There is some difference of opinion as to whether the short part of the
staff should rest on the leg, or the long part as I have shown here.
I find this is the comfortable way for me.

Since I love to knit and crochet socks, I decided I needed to spin very fine yarn, called lace weight yarn that I could ply into fingering weight yarn that is ordinarily used for making socks. This called for an Ashford Traditional Spinning wheel on which I could put the lace flyer and just leave it on. I did not want to remove the regular flyer from my Ashford Traveller wheel to put the lace flyer on each time I wanted to spin very fine yarn because I was told that would eventually cause the screw holes in the wood to enlarge and ruin my Traveller wheel. So now I have two wheels and enjoy using each of them. My neighbor Roy says he has some lambs with medium staple wool, one Suffolk and one American Hampshire that he is going to shear in December and if the staple is long enough he will give me a fleece or two; he also is going to see if he can get me a fine long wool Rambouillet fleece from a friend who raises them. I hope this happens. I love playing with fleeces and curls, even though it is time consuming and a lot of work. I made Roy's wife Delores a scarf with some of the fleece wool they gave me last year and dyed it a pretty blue to add some color to her winter wardrobe.

I have put aside knitting for a while and am concentrating on crochet. It is easier for me and more fun, and I am moving gradually into freeform work. Before beginning that though, I crocheted a shrug, just to see if I could do it. Here it is: shrug
Shrugs are designed to just keep the shoulders and arms warm. I have a different
pattern that I plan to make; they are fun to create.

Here is a pair of mittens I made for Camilla:

I think this is handspun yarn that I bought. I like the heather look.
Mittens are fun to make and when made of larger yarn
like this they make up pretty fast.

Mitch asked for a scarf using dog hair from their Huskies, Nicci and Tasha. He wanted it to be more sturdy than his tie, that he could wear in the winter. I mixed the dog hair with wool, dyed it and spun the yarn. I wanted a deep black-cherry red and I started the process using Kool-aid but I couldn't get the color deep enough so I added some deeper red acid dye and a touch of black. I wondered if it would blow up as I mixed the two different products...but both are acid based and I had no trouble with it.  I wanted a rugged manly man scarf this time, and I added the blue commercial yarn just for contrast:
I just made up the pattern as I went along; I think Mitch likes it and it is a keepsake treasure for him
and the Husky hair makes the beautiful halo around the wool.

This next project was to introduce me to crocheting lacy freeform garments. I used a pattern by Renate Kirkpatrick for the base of the poncho, but selected and made the additional motifs. It turned out nicely:
The poncho itself is made of Fleece Artist Lady Godiva yarn,
a 50/50 blend of silk and soft merino wool. The flower and leaf motifs
are made of some of my hand spun yarn and some commercial yarn.
Jene visited recently and I had her try it on and it looked so
lovely on her...she is tall and can handle the long asymmetrical design,
so she is the new owner of the poncho.

I hope my next crocheted project will be a freeform vest. I have the template laid out on the board and all I have to do is choose the yarn and start making the motifs. I like lacy freeform fabric and that is what I plan to do but sometimes projects exert their will on the creator, so we shall see. In the meantime I was invited to a Halloween luncheon and decided to make a witch doll. Kate Erbach, friend and doll making mentor had sent me her original design pattern and the fabric for the face and body a couple of years ago. Here she is:
This was such a fun project.
Don't you love her boots?
This shows her polka dotted stockings and her
black with silver stars pantaloons are peaking
out at her upper thighs.
witch and smudge
Here she is in close-up with her cat Smudge.  The directions
said to not bother with facings and neatness in making her clothes,
witches can't be bothered with such things, they have other brooms to fly.
Her face is painted with acrylics, colored pencils, watercolor pencils
and sealed with acrylic medium. She has "real" commercial eyelashes.
Designed to either ride a broom or to have bat wings, she has neither because
Farris and I like the way she sits up without them. I presented her to my hostess.
She will have a very loving home.

That is it for this entry. I hope it will not be so long before the next, but I can't promise anything. Have a great holiday season and know that all of your are in my heart and prayers.

May21, 2009: I had an email from a friend asking for a Lair Log update. I tend to neglect my web site now because due to health issues and resulting lifestyle changes we do not travel much any more and do many things that I think might be of interest to others. However, I will report on what is going on at the Lair in response to my friend's request.

We have had some nice surprises during spring bird migration. One day our playmates Tipp and Sharon were visiting and Sharon spotted three electric blue birds in the front yard and called us to the window. We had three Indigo Buntings feeding on the ground under the black oil sunflower feeder! The only other time I have seen Indigo Buntings was about twenty years ago when five of them visited our back yard in New Orleans. Another day, to my surprise, A Rose Breasted Gross Beak visited the feeder. This is a northern bird. I have only seen one other and that was during a trip to the Gulf Coast, again during migration. A picture of that bird is in the Wildlife Gallery. Research shows me that a pocket of them winter down on the Gulf coast and I imagine the one who visited us this spring was on the way north for the summer. Several days later a Baltimore Oriole appeared at the humming bird feeder. I have only seen one of those at The Lair previously, and it was at the front of the place. They like nectar feeders, only the nectar should be mixed six cups of water to one of sugar, weaker than for humming birds.  Their beaks are too big to feed at the humming bird feeder. They also like oranges and I was so frustrated because I didn't have an orange to cut and put out and could not find my Oriole feeder. If I had, I might have enticed him to stay around for a while. We have had brief visits from Eastern Blue Birds and on Easter Sunday, we saw a special gift in the form of a pair of Painted Buntings in the tree outside our dining room. We do not have as many humming birds as we have had previously in all the years we have lived here. I usually have six feeders out and they are emptied every day; this year two to four feeders have been ample. I don't know if this is due to loss of habitat in their winter location, or whether the aggressive bees piling up at the feeders have discouraged their return or whether it is due to the fickleness of migrating birds. I doubt it is the latter because we have had large numbers of them for 15 years. We still have plenty, both Ruby Throated and Black Chinned, but I am concerned.

I continue to spin and have been spinning silk. Spinning is to me what yoga is to some people, a calming, relaxing activity.  I think spinning silk is the ultimate experience. I decided I wanted to finish all my ongoing needlework projects so I can begin to buy fiber and yarn only for specific projects (the influence of the Wall Street crooks and the sagging economy). So I rummaged around and found something unexpected and forgotten: A bag containing squares for a sampler afghan that I knitted back in the 1970s! It is a collection of various stitch patterns, all finished and edged with contrasting thread. At the time I made it, I knew nothing about gauge so some of the squares weren't of the same size as others. Once before, I tried to get someone who knits professionally to block them for me but she didn't want to fool with it, saying it would take too much time. So they sat in their bag, neglected, forgotten, and moved from house to house in city after city for many years. Knowing more about blocking wool now, I got out my trusty steam iron, blocked those squares to matching size in a jiffy and put that sampler afghan together in a day. I was amazed at the complicated stitches I had made, cables, lacy pieces, all kinds of designs that I am not sure I could execute now. I immediately became fascinated with the beautiful stitches and also became emotionally attached to the afghan and declared it mine for my exclusive use. That isn't hard. Farris doesn't like wool. I do have the gift of perseverance, even though I may not use it swiftly sometimes. Here is the 30 year afghan:

sampler afghan
The monogram on the left was to teach duplicate stitch, and the heron on the right was to teach jacquard knitting.
Neither of those techniques were included in the afghan booklet; I got them from the old Mon Tricot series of
stitch books that I do not think are available any longer. Each square of the afghan features a different knitting stitch.

Here is a close up showing one of my favorite squares.

afghan segment
To the left middle and top and top middle are some cable patterns.

afghan segment
More patterns, cables, open work, knit-purl designs. And I only used 24 stitches. The
booklet has a hundred different stitches in it.

The above pictures attest to the durability of fine wool and the beauty of allowing
lovely stitches to be featured in a work. One reason I have not embraced the popular
technique of felting wool is because it obscures stitches and I LOVE to see stitch patterns.

My other unfinished project was another afghan called the "Let it Snow" afghan. When I decided to make it, I remarked to my sister Lynette that it shouldn't take me more than five years to make it, and sure enough, it is my five year afghan. I prefer smaller projects such as socks and scarves and hats and have made many of those during the five years. However, I bit the bullet and worked on only the motifs for this afghan the last two months. This one is crocheted and the motifs are various snowflake patterns surrounded by a field of navy blue that for me symbolizes the night and joined by a marled yarn of medium blue with white dashes that I fancy symbolize falling snow. This particular afghan is made of acrylic yarn  so that Farris will use it on the cold winter days when he is "resting his eyes" while lying on the navy blue couch. Here it is:

snow afghan
Making the motifs was fun; although I love both, I find crochet easier
and often more fun than knitting. However, each motif was a hexagon
without sharply designated points and it was very difficult to
join them together. The pattern had a beautiful edging but
it totally defeated me. I simply could not understand the directions,
so I chose another simpler edging. I think the finished product
suffers for the lack of the original edging but I had had enough of
this creature and wanted it finished so I did what worked for me.
I think it is pretty, I am glad I finished it, and I am glad it will keep Farris warm.
I will stick with my Sampler afghan.

In my last entry (now in the archives) I mentioned the Bosworth hand spindles and that if I learn to hand spin on them to my satisfaction I will reward myself with one Golding spindle at Christmas. I can confidently say I am already eligible for the Golding spindle. But it is not due to my developing skill as much as due to how beautifully balanced the Bosworth spindles are and how well they spin.  Now I am thinking seriously of rewarding myself  with the Bosworth's mini spindle as well as the Golding spindle when Christmas rolls around.
Until next time......

Last revised November 6, 2009

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