Sunday, May 30, 2010

rain rain all around

It started raining here just in time for the weekend. Winnipeg doesn't have an enormous amount of precipitation compared to, say, Kentucky. In fact, when I looked up yearly averages, I found out that it had half as much. (Winnipeg has 20 some inches of precipitation a year as compared to 40 some in Bowling Green, KY.) Therefore, a big rainstorm can be an event here.

This might be because we live on the prairies, so when it rains, there is nowhere for the puddles to go. They become ponds or's a smaller puddle that I could see from our house. Crossing the street can sometimes be like fording a fast running crick in the middle of a storm.

Last night we (the professor, our resident student and I) went out for Greek food. We walked to the restaurant and settled in for a leisurely dinner. We tried to draw it out as the sky got dark -again-and it started to pour. Unfortunately, even after a cappucino (for me) and a big slice of cake (for the professor and his student) it was still raining. It was even leaking and raining inside the restaurant! We pulled on our raincoats and hats and set out.

Within a few moments, our feet were sopping wet. Then the wind turned. The rain went down the neck of my raincoat. Worse yet, it somehow went up the bottom of my raincoat and within minutes, my linen pants were about 3 lbs heavier with water than I'd expected. When we got home, every piece of clothing had to be taken off and changed. I took a hot bath to warm up. The professor slipped on the basement steps--wet from a drippy raincoat--and hurt his toe enough to draw blood. It was a damp situation... We all seemed ok with staying indoors and giving up on the evening relatively early.

From our third floor we look out on the top of a building. This is what it looked like between rainstorms. The flat roof is literally full with rainwater.

This afternoon I am volunteering at the Manitoba Craft Museum and Library for Doors Open. I'm bringing along some spinning, since I imagine the crowds may be small. The rain hasn't let up, and although Winnipeggers are hearty folk, I suspect most people would rather take a nap at home than wander through the city in the rain. We'll see!

Today the professor and his student are working on bottling up the homemade wine that he's been making in the basement. It's a good weekend microbiology project...including collaboration with a colleague, who is loaning them some equipment. (It's always nice to feel I help to support nontraditional science learning at home!)

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shetlands on a Sunday

The professor, our student friend, who is staying the summer with us and I were all invited out to a farm on Sunday. We were in time to see the lambs! Two friends share the farm responsibilities and own the flock of Shetlands together. One of them lives on the farm and is a needle felter and an artist. The other friend does the sewing for the needlefelted designs. It looks like a wonderful collaboration between friends.

The animals on this farm can feel the love! The Shetlands were remarkably cuddly and patient with the humans in their field. In this photo, at the very left, you can see a ewe whose fleece is rooing. (coming off on its own) Traditionally, long ago, Shetland sheep shed their fleece. Now, most shepherds prefer to shear "on the break" as the fleece is beginning to roo. Not all Shetlands even begin to shed their fleece anymore; this is bred out of some of them over the generations and they wait to be shorn. Shearing carefully is very important for good handspun yarn that doesn't pill. (small bits of fleece will break off and become pills) but for felting, it might not be as crucial.

Then we went to a second pasture to visit the "guys." Two Shetland rams, a pygora buck and doe, and 2 llamas lived in that second pasture. The pygora buck was very friendly, but billy goats can have big horns. We were cautious....

and so was the pygora doe, who hung back with the llamas away from the scary visitors.

Pygoras can have some diversity in their fiber, and we spent some time admiring this buck. He had a coat with both guard hairs and a fine undercoat. He was shedding, and you could just pull bits of his wintercoat off as he walked by! He was friendly and patient enough (mind the horns!) to allow this.

We had a nice time outside in the sunshine. It gave us an opportunity to show our student houseguest what the countryside looks like. (It's flat. Really flat.) It was also a wonderful opportunity to meet some more fiber artists/shepherds in Manitoba.
I'm having some trouble with getting this post and all these pictures online, so I'll end here. Hope you enjoyed our little outing to a local farm!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lost and Found

(Thanks for your comments regarding the rugs and pricing for my weaving and spinning. It is helpful, and useful to know that the $100 minimum I set for myself for the rugs is reasonable. I have been granted a lucky extension on getting those slides to the local craft council, so I'm still working on that project...)

Now, on to the main event. I hear that most Manitobans spend their "May Long" weekend (also known as the Victoria Day weekend) opening their cottages or doing a lot of gardening. We here have neither cottage nor is our yard in any way ready for a lot of gardening. Weeding, mowing, yes, ---gardening, not so much yet. So, I spent the time on other pursuits.

First, I'm in the midst of getting ready to potentially teach a writing course for graduate students at one of the universities in town. In thinking about it, I sought out my copy of "Strunk and White" or The Elements of Style.

I couldn't find it. This copy is dear to me not only because I've read it over and over, but also it was my mother's copy. My mom wrote in books as a college student (something I've never been able to bring myself to do) and it's nice to see her scrawl on the pages of the text. Plus, my mom went to Cornell University shortly after E.B. White, a famous Cornell graduate, published his first revised version. (and I went to Cornell many years afterwards.) It's one of the few books where I'm attached to "this copy" as compared to any other copy of the text.

I cannot find it anywhere in my house.

I get a bit obsessive about things I appear to have lost. When I realized I couldn't find it, I worked hard to think of when I last had it. In Kentucky, while proofing one of my books, I consulted Strunk and White. I sat at the dining room table. That's the last remembered sighting, and that had to have been at least almost a year ago, and maybe longer.

I hate losing things, but this class is supposed to start June 7, so first things first. I needed another copy. I then went to 4 bookstores (2 new, 2 used) to find one. That would be 4 book stores since Wednesday evening. I ended up with a copy of Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style at book store #1, and although it is a great book, it didn't calm my obsession.

Yesterday I finally bought a copy of Edition #4, and I'm waiting for my well-loved old copy to turn up, as these things always do after one has gone on a wild chase like this. At least, I hope it turns up...

We've also now got a lovely young friend of ours, a student, visiting for the summer and staying with us. She will work in the Professor's lab. In reshuffling the furniture for her visit, I discovered we needed a little gooseneck bedside lamp. Finding an appropriately inexpensive and functional lamp? The Professor and I went to a total of 5 stores. FIVE! (we have no idea where to go for these things in Canada. We're learning. Slowly.)

However, the crown jewel of the Lost and Found stories was from yesterday afternoon. We went downtown to do a little book shopping, a trip to Artsjunktion where we scored some great 100% wool rug yarn for free...all good things. Except for one thing. We went to eat dim sum for lunch and when we got out of the restaurant, we had a little problem.

My car was gone. Not there. Not on the street where we'd left it less than an hour before.

My shock was, well, enormous. Thank goodness it was daylight and I had two other intelligent people with me. The three of us put our heads together, managed to call the parking authority people, and discovered that we'd misread the parking signs. The car had been ticketed and less than an hour, on a holiday weekend. Oh, and by the way, the woman on the phone explained, if you walk in this direction (in a relatively industrial and unsavory area of town) you'll head to the towing lot...

I've been having some asthma difficulties-everything is blossoming here -and maybe it was the lack of oxygen or whatever, but I was surprised and shocked to just short of tears. I had a distinct lack of breath. (Allergies and stress will cause an asthma attack.) Luckily the impound lot wasn't far away. We got there. Something like $120 later, we had the car back so we could drive home.

Lucky the yarn was free, don't you think?

Today we're hoping things go more smoothly! We're going off to the country to a farm to visit some sheep and lambs. I am hoping to keep my car close by at all times. :)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

running in place

I occasionally feel as though I cannot keep up with my own expectations. That is what's going on lately. I've got so many things happening that I hardly know what to post about. At the moment, the piano tuner is here (ping ping ping! PONG pong pong!) so I can't think clearly anyway. So, here goes...

Since my last post, I've dealt with those two loaves of whole wheat, made 4 loaves of challah, and 12 muffins. (all freezer bound...) I've cleaned and made a bed or two. In the end, I just made a list. My list has at least 29 things on it, both work and household related and any way you count it, I'm only able to cross off 12 of those things so far. I keep adding to the list too. Oh, and technically, this is Shavuot and I should be taking some time off as it's a holiday. Instead, I went to an evening program at my synagogue last night, stopped on the way home for some gelato (eating dairy products is a custom during this holiday) and went back to my regular routine. Oh well.

The photos in this post are "slides" I am gathering up. I'm going to try to enter my fiber art into some juried shows and sales this year. That first photo is some of my handspun. The second is a 2 foot by 3 foot rug with "dreads"--essentially locks of wool, interspersed with mill end rovings.

I've also done some textured patterns, including this one, which has variegated stripes of hand-dyed Cotswold wool. I think with the depth of greens, it looks like spring. I think this last photo with the flat white zig zag rug looks a little like a blizzard here in Winnipeg. Here the wind blows the snow around a lot, so it flies all in different directions. It's a bit weird to be talking about snow right now. It's sunny and 28C ( 80F or so). Anyhow, I'm working on trying to catch photos that look like what I've been creating, and that can be difficult. It feels like a test of my photography rather than of my fiber art.

Since we'll be having lots of house guests this summer and I'll be teaching a fair bit, you might not see me here as often. I'll try to be consistent, but we'll see how that goes.

It does also look like I won't be traveling or taking much of a vacation, but that's ok. I can always look back at Fiber Gathering and remember a time when I travelled an awful lot! If you're looking for some armchair travel, that might be just the ticket. :)

Now, on to the question I meant to ask you,dear blog readers. I need to put a theoretical price on each of the things I submit for this jury. I'm a bit challenged there. I can't afford to get less than $100 for a 2 by 3 foot rug, I think, when considering materials and the bare minimum for my time. What do you think a fair price is for a handwoven fleece rug? What about a handspun/handwoven scarf?

Advice is welcome. I'm not even able to show my darker colored weaving here, as the photos don't come out as clearly yet. I'm working on it. Also, list management suggestions also might be a help. I'm not making fast enough progress here, possibly because the ping ping ping of the piano in the next room might drive me over the edge first...

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

may-be it's spring

Whenever people talk about where we live (Canada, the prairies, or Winnipeg) they seem to act like we exist in a continual snowy steppe, a blur in blizzard. Here are some photos to say it ain't so.

This is one of our lilacs. Our yard is really overgrown, but when we arrived last July, we decided to wait the better part of the year before doing too much hacking and killing of the weedy bits. After all, we needed to figure out where the actual plants were. What we've found are some gargantuan lilacs, among other things. We've begun to discuss the hacking plans....and I've started dismantling the "crop circles."

Apparently a former owner of the house liked making little circles on the ground with stones or bricks-with no apparent order or design. Some of them surround trees or what used to be plantings. Whatever they are, they make mowing and walking across the yard a scary thing for toes...unless you look down, you're likely to hurt yourself! Each time I move some of these things, I feel as though I'm regaining more of a garden and less of a weird new-age spiritual ritual that I haven't quite grasped.

The professor and I bought some plants last weekend but were in no shape to put them in the ground. It was also a bit too cold to get started. This weekend, I spent several hours in the dirt, planting flowers, herbs, a tomato plant or two and other odds and ends. Mostly I put these in pots and containers, but I did a bit of digging and weeding in the ground, too.

Our ornamental crab apple tree is flowering--wow, it's a thing of beauty. I find it even more exciting because the apple tree grafts are taking. The professor and a friend/colleague decided to splice on some apple grafts in hopes that we'll grow a few apples in 3 years. We're planning ahead.

My third warp of curtains and rugs have finally come off the loom. I washed the curtain length of fabric. All the supplies for this were "reclaimed" so I wasn't entirely sure of the kind of fibers I was using. I discovered that even though the warp is cotton, and there's nylon tape in it, the wool sections were definitely wool and it felted. I still like how it came out but now have to rethink how I will cut it up to make curtains. It is distinctly smaller than it used to be--pre-felting.

When I finally took everything off the loom though, I remembered why it took me 2.5 months to finish it all. 5 rugs and several yards of fabric--it was a lot more work than I'd expected. The fourth warp (already in process) is for 2 or 3 scarves. Much easier to complete!

I'm also beginning to plan ahead for our busy summer. I've got some potential teaching lined up, some editing, and of course, lots of spinning, knitting and weaving in the sunshine. Also, we're expecting a lot of visitors. This week I am trying the "bake ahead" method. I'll make a whole bunch of stuff and put it in the freezer for later in the summer. This is the first loaf of whole wheat-the second loaf I made is going to a party at someone's house this evening. White bread, challah, cookies, cake....freezer, here we come!

(Also, the professor and I are getting better from the killer cold but it's been very slow.)
That's the news from here... What's going on over in your house and May garden?

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

lurking in the basement

The professor and I are still in the clutches of a bad head cold. It's the kind where you think that cutting off your head altogether would make everything all better. Luckily, that seems so difficult that in between coughing and blowing your nose, you just sit on the couch and stare at nothing, so in actuality, our heads are pretty safe.

This slow motion approach to life is ideal for processing the wool I've just received. Aside from the burrs (see photo 1 there) it's quite nice. I deal with it pretty simply.

First, I sit down on the basement floor for an hour or two at a time, usually in the late afternoons when I am good for little else. I pull off a clump of locks of wool, with burrs embedded in there. (just like a journalist with the military) I take a pair of sharp scissors, and I chop off the very top of the lock, where the burrs are. I assemble a big pile of greasy locks, ready to be washed. I throw all the burrs away along with wool that is too short or too stinky into a trash can. (Absolutely never consider composting this seedy kind of trash. Burr seeds in your compost could potentially mean big ole burrs in your garden if your compost wasn't hot enough to kill the seeds. Oh no.)

When the pile is big enough, I wash it as one would usually wash wool, but with a bit of deviation to maintain a small amount of lanolin in there. The water in my washing machine (I use it as a set tub) is hot but not really hot. I do one wash and one rinse. The wool that comes out is cleaner, but still a little greasy, which is ideal for wool combing.

You'll see there are still some burr seeds in there, but otherwise, it's now pretty much vegetable matter free. Unlike wool from the east coast, I found the burr species here did not puncture my hands, and there were no tree leaves in this. Another benefit of the prairies and bush land here, I guess!

I used basic tools to make this work. One thing was a pair of sharp scissors. The other thing was a set of well-loved 2 row Indigo Hound Viking Combs. I will note here that I don't comb when I'm too tired as it is dangerous. I also found that raw or really greasy wool and combing can be dangerous too, as the combs get sort of slippery and, well, I don't want one of those spikes through my hands, do you?!

The next stage was to do some combing to see how this was coming out. As you can see here, this wool looks nothing like that first photo up top. White, relatively clean and hand combed top-- with a little grease in it for ease in combing and spinning? It's practically my favorite stuff to spin in the world.

Yesterday I had to sample a bit, just to be absolutely sure it would be a delight to spin. Oh yes, it was! The spindle here is one of Ray's. I spun a very fine yarn for the heck of it. My keys are next to the spindle for perspective's sake.

Then I plied the yarn, using a Navajo 3 ply technique. I plied it directly off the first spindle and onto a Hatchtown Farm Kaari Spindle.
When the tiny skein was complete, I put it on a tiny niddy noddy, ideal for sampling. (I've never used it before, as it was a gift and I usually use my hand and elbow, but it's quite a nice little piece of woodworking!)
I haven't knitted a swatch with it yet, but it's basically a fingering weight yarn.
The combing waste will be used for stuffing or carding into a woollen yarn. I'm mostly through "de-burring" fleece #1. Fleeces 2 and 3 await.
In the past, when I've done production spinning, this wool wouldn't have been a candidate for it--it's obviously not time effective. However, if you're enjoying process and not product, (and in no hurry) there's no reason not to use nice wool and work around flaws like a few -hundred- burrs.
It's not for everyone, but so far I haven't minded the quiet time spent in the basement, fondling raw wool and staring off into space. It's ideal for someone with a head cold and this glazed look...I'll see how I feel towards the end of fleece #3!
Was this helpful information? Have you ever gone the extra mile to salvage interesting fleece? Tell me about how you did it in the comments, please! Let's learn from one another!

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, May 09, 2010

sniffle ends

You may have been wondering what I've been up to. (I have been, too...mostly, I think I'm staring into space.) After I wrote that last post, the professor and I came down with a doozy of a cold. We're both snuffling through, but the last few days have felt like being underwater. It's no wonder, really, we were exposed to so many people on our trip. Also, we couldn't afford to feel sick on our travels, so our immune systems patiently waited until we came home.

I promised some photos of what I bought on our journey. All and all, it doesn't look that interesting from the photos. To me, though, it's great stuff. I ordered 15 lbs of Brown Sheep Mill Ends that were delivered to my parents' house. This is the tail ends of wool rovings used to make yarns, and while it's not useful for the yarn company's big industrial spinning machines, it is great for weaving, spinning and felting by hand. It's all washed and ready to go, and so far, I'm overjoyed with the purchase. Here's what the bag looks like, and here is the rug I'm working on, complete with interspersed dreadlocks of wool. I'll likely dye some of this soon so all my rugs won't be white, brown or black.

However, in order to make some darker colored rugs, I found these fabulous mill ends from
Old Mill Yarn at Maryland Sheep & Wool festival. It's hard to shoot photos of this, but here is over 2lbs of mercerized brown cotton "floss" at 2,200 yards per lb for warp...for $6 a lb! I also bought two bags (each bag weighs a pound) of very thick 100% wool rug yarn in brown and black for weaving. They cost $10 a bag. I couldn't believe my luck!

I also spent some quality time visiting with sheep while at the festival. Here's a very warm Lincoln Longwool that smiled for the camera... and this brings me to my wool acquisition. Right before leaving for my trip, a friend in Winnipeg let me know that her cousin kept sheep. I got in touch with him, and as if by magic, he happened to be shearing just a week or two ago.

Although the farm is 70 kilometers from town, I was again surprised to discover his lovely daughter, who showed up on my doorstep to "deliver" 3 fleeces. It's my first local Canadian wool and likely Rideau Arcott, or some fine wool cross with that breed. The wool itself is gorgeous, but sadly parts of the fleeces are like pelts--joined together with burrs which are in the outer parts of the fleece. I spent a couple hours cutting off burrs yesterday and washed up some of it as a sample. When I'm done posting this, I'll go downstairs to see whether I can comb out the rest of the vegetable matter that remains. The wool itself is nice--the burrs are not!

My knitting is sort of stalled, aside from a plain old sock project. I have been working on and off on a dress sweater. I bought this rich purple Filatura di Crosa Zara Merino yarn years ago, on a vacation in Vancouver, British Columbia. I used the odd ball for a hat a few years ago. Then, I started this project last fall, with what looked like plenty of yarn. (Uh Oh...)

When the yarn started to run short, I got nervous. Then I discovered an odd ball of yarn carefully lodged under my bed. (good thing I cleaned there!) No idea how it got there, although maybe my dogs thought it was interesting and hid it? Anyway, I kept knitting. On my trip, I neared the end of the second sleeve. I'd done everything but the shoulder cap and the neckband when I saw that the yarn left was just not enough.

I put out a plea to some friends. Amazingly, one ball of this very color yarn happened to be in a friend's stash---in Tokyo. She and her children walked it to the post office, and it's winging its way to Winnipeg. This will be one well traveled sweater, long before I even wear it.

Finally, you may remember my Fingerprinting post back in February. Well, along with the cold we got this week, we also got back our information from the FBI. The professor's said "no criminal record" and he can go right ahead to continue his application for permanent residency in Canada. Mine said "your finger prints weren't high enough quality for us to tell." (gee thanks) So, it was back to the police department this week for me to get my second set of Winnipeg fingerprints done. That's because our applications have to be sent at the same time, and now my lousy fingerprints are holding things up!

This is the second time recently when my hands were noticed in a negative way. The jeweler recently noted that I am wearing out the prongs that hold onto the stone in my engagement ring rather quickly, so it keeps having to be repointed. It also turns out that people who work with their hands often don't fingerprint well. I was gently chastised by the clerk that I should be taking better care of my digits. Lots of moisturizing lotion! Less handwashing!

I took the hint. When I spent two hours yesterday sorting wool and burrs, I took off my rings first. I expect this is why sheep (or shearers?) don't wear wedding rings. :)

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Home again

Trip stats for the U.S. east coast spring whirlwind tour, 2010:

-4 airplanes
-1600 miles of driving in cars*
-45+ opportunities to hug individual friends and family members (in 8 days)...but not including:
(1 wedding)

-1 family party (New Jersey)
-2 family dinners (Virginia)
-1 hospital visit
-only 2 huge nephew crying jags and temper tantrums (+ several days of lovely smiling moments with a 4 year old and 18 month old, so I think we did fine)
-2 opportunities to eat at the Lebanese Taverna
-1 sighting of yarn graffiti in Fergus Falls, Minnesota (at Crates of Yarn, a yarn shop--but it was closed when we drove by)
-1 trip to Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival
-1 sunburn I wasn't expecting (it was hot! 90F!)
-2 pretty tired people who came home to Manitoba
-2 dogs who got baths at the kennel and then came home yesterday...and
-1 baby rabbit (or bunny sushi for bird dogs) caught and eaten before the tired humans realized what the dogs were doing to the bunnies nesting under our backyard shed in Winnipeg.


We can no longer say that our dogs haven't killed anything in Manitoba. We're sorry. Baby bunny, R.I.P.
...and many more statistics and stories to come when I am slightly better rested.

*1600 miles in the car? That's:
-one trip from Winnipeg to Minneapolis to catch flights on Southwest. (7 hours)
-one trip from BWI airport near Baltimore to NYC
-2 roundtrips from NYC to NJ and back
-one trip from NYC to Northern Virginia
-one trip from Northern Virginia to the Howard County Fairgrounds in Maryland
-Fairgrounds to hotel and wedding in Baltimore
-Hotel to BWI, leaving dark o'clock on Monday morning
-one trip from Minneapolis to Winnipeg from the airport back home. (7 more hours)
for a total of 17 hours of travel on Monday.
One Tired Joanne

Labels: , , , , ,