Monthly Archives: February 2011

What I Read in February 2011

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
The Moor by Laurie R. King (reread)
Od Magic by Patricia McKillip
In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip
The Healing Wisdom of Birds by Lesley Morrison
A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King (reread)
Bird Signs by G.G. Carbone

This list is short, and looks wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I kept lousy records this month; I know I read more than this. Okay, fine, it’s a short month, but still. And okay, sure, my month also consisted mostly of work, but come on.

I read two collections of articles from the Suzuki Association of the Americas’ journal, and I’ve been reading Elizabeth Bear’s Grail, the final book in the very excellent Jacob’s Ladder trilogy, and trying to make it last while wanting to eat it all at once. I’m working on Helping Parents Practice by Edmund Sprunger, too. Maybe it’s just that I’m spread out over lots of things. Or maybe it’s the new spinning wheel taking up time I’d normally use to read.

Welcome, Rowan!

It’s a miserable day out there today. The weather is schizophrenic, part fluffy snow, part ice pellets, part freezing rain, and part plain old rain.

But there is something wonderful that makes up for the misery outside my window.

Hail and welcome to Rowan Mark James St-Martin, newly born son of our dear and long-time friends Kristie and Rob, born only minutes into this day! May your life be full and blessed; may you know joy, weep only happy tears, and taste the entirety of what life offers you with enthusiasm, wisdom, and grace.

Newborn babies are wonderful things. Ours or not, we have the opportunity to celebrate the renewal of life, and the confirmation that new beginnings come again and again to lift us up and inspire us when things seem mundane. We are all blessed by sharing in the joy surrounding a birth.

In Which She Is Tired

Stuff has happened, but I’m tired, as usual, so all you get is:

– We (meaning the owlies and I and the blog) are nine years old as of a week ago. Happy birthday, little owlies and your Court!

– The hospital tests happened, and I’m not dead. The procedure was extremely uncomfortable, although I was told that it was out-of-the-ordinarily so due to specific circumstances, and it’s something I hope to never have to go through again. The doctor’s initial response was positive, but that was based on looks alone; we have to wait four weeks for the samples to be analysed for final and accurate feedback. I spent most of the rest of the day on the couch downstairs trying not to move and jar the painful test site. I was mostly okay by the next morning, though. I have prescriptions contingent on the outcome and follow-up appointments and all that sort of stuff.

– Chuffed by my success with my beautiful, beautiful wool-bamboo blend on the new Symphony wheel, I jumped into the second half of the Polworth so I could have it finished and done. I wish I was enjoying it more. While it’s easier and certainly faster on the new double-drive wheel, it’s still not the fabulous experience I’ve read Polworth is supposed to be. It doesn’t draft easily (in places it does, but generally it does not), and doesn’t have the light shine Polworth is apparently supposed to have to it, and looks dull. I am willing to believe that it’s due to how it was dyed or handled before it got to me, and that this is not representative of the more general experience, but it’s not encouraging me to try the fibre again, really. The best news is that it’s going miles faster on the Symphony than the Louet, so it will be done with and then I can ply it and that will be that.

– The boy completed his first ever self-directed school project with no teacher input. He planned, designed, and executed a three-dimensional model of a penguin. I’m very proud of him, because on last term’s report card the teacher indicated he needed to work on clearly thinking through all the steps of an activity, and he accomplished this very well indeed.

I love this for so many reasons, including the wacky orange pipe-cleaner beak and the googly eyes. The paper-towel tube wings are held on with brass brads so they swing back and forth. It is, he would like you to know, an emperor penguin, and obviously a male, because it has an egg at its feet.

– We finally have the 1/8 size cello! It looks exactly like my 7/8, but miniaturized (it’s from the same manufacturer). It is adorable. The boy and I are sharing a lesson slot this coming Tuesday, as it is March break and I’d need to bring him with me anyway. I think it will be very good for him to watch another lesson in progress.

– The boy began his March break on Friday morning. Friday, being one of my work days, was very trying, because while he intellectually understands “Mum is working till lunchtime, do not bother Mum,” he is a very social boy and drops by frequently to see what I’m doing, to invite me to play, or to ask me to problem-solve. HRH has been marvellous this weekend, giving me an hour here and there to catch up on work time I missed due to doctors and hospitals and other regular engagements last week. He took the boy out to do groceries yesterday morning when I had a brutal headache, and they came back with a potted hyacinth:

and a potted daffodil:

Bless them.

– I have to work this week while the boy is home on March break. This is going to be a Very Valuable Learning Experience for everyone. We are doing our best to get through the boy’s head that Mum is working when she sits at her computer, not playing as he does when he sits at it, and she cannot be interrupted every five minutes. I have a deadline on Friday at noon, and while I’m at the halfway mark as of this afternoon’s work session, it could all go very badly if the manuscript takes a turn for the worse, or the boy is too clingy. The afternoons are being spent together. Trust me, if I could have taken this week off, I would have, but I miscalculated how much time I’d lose to hospitals and medical professionals and waiting rooms last week and accepted a freelance assignment, and so I have to finish the last half of the project this week while he’s home.

– It’s beginning to feel suspiciously like the end of winter (note: this does not exactly equate to “the beginning of spring”; that happens sometime later). The sun is reducing the huge snowbanks down somewhat, and there are steady drops of snowmelt off the roof. We are all very cranky every time Environment Canada issues weather warnings for the region that scaremonger with threats of 25 cm of snow, but so far we’ve just gotten 5 cm here and there. March may come in like a lamb after all.

In Which She Mostly Talks About The Yarn Made On Her New Spinning Wheel

This new spinning wheel. Gentle readers, I tell you: I am in heaven.

I love how this wheel handles. I disassembled the treadle assembly and thoroughly saturated all the wood/metal friction points with white lithium grease, and there has been nary another chirp from it, which had been the only drawback to the first week. The wheel is easy to treadle, and although it works well enough if I just used the right treadle, I prefer using the double treadle. (Astute readers whose brains stubbornly hold on to ludicrously unimportant trivia will remember that I was angsty about investing in a double treadle wheel in case I didn’t like it. Borrowing Bonnie’s exquisite 30″ Schacht-Reeves Saxony wheel throughout October pretty much cured me of that, but there was always that small frisson of what-if.) It spins beautifully both clockwise and counter-clockwise. Taking a bobbin off is a bit more complicated that on my bobbin-led upright Louet, as it entails loosening the mother-of-all unit, removing the drive band from both the bobbin and the flyer whorl, removing the whole flyer assembly, but then unscrewing the flyer whorl, switching bobbins, screwing the flyer whorl back on again, then doing the rest in reverse order. It’s a bit fussier, that’s all. Because I’m using it in double drive, replacing the drive band on the two whorls and tightening the mother-of-all has been the trickiest part, because I”m never sure if my tension is the same as it was or not.

I love the double drive, as well. Double drive is supposed to be great for spinning really thin yarn. I am, perhaps, undermining this by using the largest bobbin whorl and flyer whorl to get used to the wheel, but I am loving how double drive uses the difference in ratio between those two whorls to wind yarn onto the bobbin and adjust take-up tension moderately. I should test the Scotch tension at some point, too, which means a single drive moving the flyer and a tensioned string running over the bobbin whorl to slow it down, enabling winding on when yarn lock is broken (in other words, when you release your firmer hold on the yarn you’re spinning and let it wind on)… but the double drive is just working so well for me right now that I’m probably going hold off for a while.

Plying was great. I ended up with a nicely balanced yarn (more on that below). I love the separate lazy kate; I love that can put it a few feet away to enable the twist o even out between the kate and the wheel; I love that it’s tensioned so my bobbins don’t spin madly when I get a good clip going.

I also love the wool/bamboo blend I chose to spin first on the wheel. I have no idea what the proportions are, but let’s just say I love it enough to be looking at buying a pound of 50% Merino/50% bamboo to dye on my own. It is soft, it is silky, it drafts incredibly well. It is everything spinning straight bamboo is not. And my, but it looked pretty on the new wheel. There are, alas, no pictures of that part, because I was so busy enjoying the spinning part that I forgot. Just trust me; the lovely soft green variegated fibre against the warm walnut of the wheel? Pretty.

Despite weighing the fibre and attempting to split it evenly for a two-ply yarn, I failed miserably and ended up with a bunch of extra single on one bobbin. In the past I have ruined lots of singles by trying to ply from a centre-pull ball, the basic way to divide the remaining single into a form from which you can pull both ends and ply them together. I have failed so utterly, in fact, that I avoid centre-pull balls and that’s why I taught myself to chain ply, and that became my default for everything. I was determined to get the last single into a two-ply yarn, though. So I wound it off onto the ball winder, and slipped it into a paper roll. I couldn’t figure out a way to get it on the arched lazy kate that wouldn’t tangle the two singles coming from either end of the ball, so I held it in my lap and plied from there.

Here is the key: My first wheel has a non-tensioned onboard lazy kate, angling up toward the flyer, onto which I’d slip my roll and the centre-pull ball on it, which didn’t have anywhere near enough weight to stay where they needed to be, and tangled and made huge messes. Holding the tube in my lap meant I could (a) hold it in place, and (b)manage the crossing that the two ends did as they unwound.

Readers, I plied from a centre-pull ball on a tube, and made real two-ply yarn. I wet-finished it for this photo:

The resulting two-ply yarn is so balanced that it doesn’t really twist back onto itself. As in, when I hang the freshly wound-off yarn from a finger or a hook, pre-finishing, it’s essentially straight. I am flabbergasted at this particular accomplishment. I have yet to wet-finish the two final skeins, as the week started and it’s been non-stop gogogo ever since. In the end, I have about 175 yards of two-ply yarn, of approximately light fingering weight.

Nixie took possession of a small test skein of half Falkland, half unknown blue wool I spun the first day. She’s been sleeping with it.

In non-fibrey news, the school bus strike is over as of last night (yay!). The boy hit 100 days of school last Friday, which was a big thing for all the kindergarteners. There are penguin projects happening at school which are student-led, so we went hunting over the weekend for purchased art supplies that the boy decided he needed in order to build a three-dimensional model of a penguin (in addition to a home-sourced granola bar box, two paper towel tubes, and some egg-shaped plastic balls); we got white feathers, foam balls, multicoloured pipe cleaners, but we could not find black feathers, so guess who dyed half a packet of white ones with her fibre dyes? (The boy helped, and it was actually a very interesting experiment to share.) Third-term report cards come home on Thursday.

I accepted a new copyediting gig this weekend and didn’t realise until afterward that this week’s workdays are cut in half by hospitals and clinics and a ped day on Friday, and all next week the boy is home for March break. Working at home when other people are here is rarely productive, but the boy and I are going to have to work something out. Perhaps mornings will be a PBS-fest for him while I get a half-day of work in, and the afternoons will be spent together.

Last night I had to cancel yet another regular thing that was soul-nourishing but consumed energy I needed to put elsewhere. Or rather, it’s been put on hold for the next six weeks at least; we’ll re-examine how things are at the beginning of April when winter is pretty much over and the cold and boots and coats no longer sap so much of my energy. Various family health issues continue to be stressful, and ramp up this week to a whole new level of eek. Some are out of our direct control and we can only be as supportive as we can be for those involved and stress on our own time, but on the personal front, I’m going into the hospital for tests on Wednesday morning and am on at least twenty-four hours of bed rest afterward. (Do not panic; I am mostly fine, and that is what the tests ought to confirm. We do have the rather unpleasant experience of waiting three to four weeks before we get those results, though, and this after waiting six weeks for the tests themselves.) I have the two new February-release Elizabeth Bear books to entertain me, my mother sent down her copy of A Red Herring Without Mustard so I could enjoy it right away, and if I get tired of reading I have three (yes, three!) spinning DVDs I have been hoarding that I can put on the TV or a laptop. I may sneak some work in there too, on the laptop. Maybe.

Momentous Decision

We (meaning the wheel and I) have made a decision regarding what we will spin first together.

It is not the Rambouillet. Nor is it the Wensleydale. Nor is it any of the indie dyed Merino I have, or the BFL, or the very squooshy Polworth I have, or the last half of the yellow/orange not-as-squooshy Polworth I started on the Louet. Nor is it the Romney I scored from Feeling Sheepish last year, or the batts from SpinKnitandLife, or the Fleece Artist braids from Mahone Bay in 2009, or the Lorna’s Laces roving Ceri bought me before my first wheel arrived. Nor is it any of the undyed fibre I have tucked away for basic spinning and dyeing purposes. I had it all spread out on my office floor today, trying to figure out what would be best. (Yes, I have a fibre stash. Do you want to make something of it?)

It is a wool/bamboo blend dyed by Projekt B for Ariadne Knits that I bought last summer because I’d never spun anything like it. I love the green/olive colour range in this. I have two knots of the fibre, one in this colourway, one in a red/yellow/brown colourway I chose because the colours were outside my comfort zone. There’s two ounces of it.

I wonder if my subconscious is offering support to Jodi by spinning something with bamboo in it. I think I chose it because it’s super soft and I love the colours. There’s a touch more yellow in the colourway than the photo shows, and it’s not quite as celery-coloured; it’s very spring-like. I haven’t tried spinning a bamboo blend, not like this; there were streaks of bamboo in the HAY batts I spun last summer at the sheep to shawl event, but they were so streaky that they essentially slipped right out of the fibre as I spun. I have most of it stuffed into one of the pockets of my spinner’s lap cloth, actually. This is well and truly blended, so we shall see how it spins up. I’m looking forward to the soft silkiness and the pretty colour on my wheel.

The Day After The Deadline

This is the day where I let my brain turn to mush, after gunning for a deadline. One day off.

I dropped the boy off at school and did half my errands. These are things that have piled up over the past two weeks because what energy I had went to working and thinking. I went to the thrift shop and bought a pair of jeans and a new cotton jersey top that fit and look terrific. I picked up some white lithium grease for the new wheel, because the metal treadle bar is squeaking where it moves in the wooden sockets. (Coincidentally this should make the track for the sliding back door a bit quieter and perhaps less rough to move; it won’t solve the issue completely because most of it comes from a chewed-up track that was like that when we moved in.) I have to stop by the library and the grocery store on the way to get the boy after school, too. Yes, the school bus strike is still on, not being the potential one-day-only thing it was coyly suggested it could be. The boy is aggrieved; riding the bus is one of the best things about school.

It is HRH’s birthday today, and so I am making a Special Dessert. I may make a Special Dinner too, or as special as it can be with a five-year-old who has to eat what we eat. It is Wednesday and orchestra night, and for ease of prep Wednesday night is usually Breakfast for Dinner night; I don’t know what changing that up will do to our dinner equilibrium. I can’t quite bring myself to serve HRH eggs, sausage and toast on his birthday, though, especially since he usually makes it. Even if he enjoys it.

I tested the new wheel last night, and very quickly fell in love with double drive. I found a 6-gram handful of Falkland fibre to test it with, perhaps not the best thing because the only other time I have tried it was to test a Hitchhiker wheel at Ariadne Knits, my LYS, so I’m not that familiar with it. (That did not go well, if you are wondering. The Hitchhiker has some innate design/physics flaws that I’m sure I’d find workarounds for if it were my only wheel, but as it isn’t, I played with it for an hour and concluded that it was pretty and cute but not practical to use.) I remember the Falkland being sort of like Corriedale, but with a sproing to it that now reminds me of Polworth since I’ve spun that since then. The Symphony handled it beautifully. I first had the tension and takeup set too tight, so when I broke my single I couldn’t pull the spun stuff off the bobbin without it drifting apart. I moved the mother of all closer to the drive wheel and magically the single took more twist, and I spun a fabulously thin, strong single in a short forward draw worsted style. Alden Amos gave me a rundown of how to adjust tension on a double drive to attain certain goals and talked about the difference in ratio between the bobbin pulley and the flyer pulley, and thank goodness I have his book with details and descriptions and physics lectures, because double drive is only barely mentioned in my other two spinning books that focus more on drafting and plying and such. I then transferred my bobbin of singles to the lazy kate and chain-plied it into 15 yards of a sample skein, which means I got roughly 45 feet of worsted single from 6 grams of fibre. I forgot the check the WPI of the single, but the finished yarn is about 24 WPI.

I have the rapturous task of sorting through my big wicker basket of indie dyer fibre to choose what to spin first. I think I want to try something I’ve never spun before. As I said to Jodi Meadows, another writer who spins, there’s some Rambouillet from Squoosh fibre arts in a burgundy/brown colourway I think I might try, or I may finally break into the Northbound Knitting fibre I got last fall in a three-month subscription to her fibre club; perhaps the Wensleydale, or ooh, there’s some Rambouillet in a lovely blue-green colourway there, too.

I had to re-tighten the leather connecting the footmen to the treadles, but apart from that and the treadle squeak, I am tremendously pleased with my initial experience with the Symphony. I discovered an oddity, though; among the two whorls included in the wheel, the smaller one seems to have a plastic bushing in it with no threads, so I can’t screw it onto the flyer shaft. It’s also got an odd cut across it. I’ll take a photo of it and post it to the forums to see if it’s supposed to be like that (can’t think why), and if it’s not I’ll contact the North American distributor and ask for a replacement. Fortunately I ordered the extra-small/fast and extra-large/slow whorls to expand the wheel’s ratio range, so I have plenty of other options in the meantime. It’s just that one of the reasons I got the wheel was to have the 16 and 20 to 1 ratios at my disposal.

Today I also have to cram for orchestra tonight, as our principal will be missing which means I’m technically the section head (ha ha ha ha ha). I am mostly concerned about keeping up with the runs in the Beethoven hitting the right notes, and not losing my cool when the conductor turns around to wave his baton right at me, which is infallibly a recipe for startling me and making me lose my place.

EDIT: Contacted the North American distributor about the small whorl that doesn’t fit the flyer or match the construction of the other; turns out it’s a whorl for a totally different wheel in their line. They’re shipping me a replacement. Hurrah!

My Deadline Carrot

Carrots work so much better than sticks, don’t you think?

Gentle readers, behold: HRH and I finished the staining and waxing the new Kromski Symphony spinning wheel.

It’s a bit darker than I initially envisioned, but it will lighten with time. Finishing it took about two weeks, but that’s because I didn’t have a lot of time or energy to stain it all in three days straight, and then there was a delay before the waxing step because I refused to use the stinky petroleum-derived paste wax that is ubiquitously available. There were tonnes of tiny finicky pieces to stain, too. HRH did about half of the work, staining the drive wheel itself, and doing the second coat of golden-tone stain over the initial walnut colour on everything. I love the homemade beeswax polish I made, which was essentially one part beeswax to four parts walnut oil, with about five drops of lavender essential oil stirred in as it cooled. The wax really brought a nice glow to it. It’s already fading; I may want to wax it more frequently than I thought. We assembled it Sunday night while rewatching the penultimate episodes of the first season of Farscape.

Today is Deadline Day. I am theoretically supposed to hand in half of the bird book, but I am actually a couple of thousand words or so below that. My editor, bless her, said not to worry about it when I contacted her on Friday with the grim facts. Things are actually going very well now, and I’m getting the entries for about two birds a day done. No matter when the wheel got finished I wasn’t going to be allowed to play with it anyway, until I’d handed in my half-book. That happens this afternoon, so tonight or tomorrow, I get to sit down and test-drive my new beauty.

She does not yet have a name. I did figure out that my Louet’s name is Lillian during this whole process, though. Poor Lillian; she has not been used since I decompressed in early January after the November/December trudge doing the two ounces of laceweight Polworth with those lovely creamy four ounces of Merino. I have no idea what I will spin first on this Symphony. Goodness knows I have a lovely basket full of indie dyer braids that I have collected over the past quarter-year from which to choose. I think there’s a Rambouillet in there somewhere; that might be nice.

Back to the salt mines! I need to finish the entry on doves before I give it all a quick once-over and e-mail it to my editor, because I have to drive out to pick the boy up to school. There’s a school bus strike that began today, you see, which cuts about an hour off my already truncated work day. No idea how long it will go on, either. The school appears very organized, though, as does the school board.

EDIT: I seem to have neglected to post a photo of that delicious thick-and-thin single of Merino in the Blue Bells #2 colourway that I spun in early January. You poor, deprived readers! Here you are:

LATER EDIT: I have just handed in my partial manuscript of the bird book. It’s only a couple of thousand words shy of the halfway point, which was the goal for today’s deadline. Go. Me.

And now I will fall over, until it is time to suit up and go collect the boy from school.