Monthly Archives: February 2016

Bagels, Burns, and Bandages

lipstick smallerAh, the glamorous life of the indie fiber artist.  I had scheduled a week for making videos about fiber and spinning.  It wasn’t to be.  No one wants to see pictures of my chopped up thumb or my burned hand.  Instead, here’s a picture of some lipstick pink and red yarn I spun up doing demonstrations at a farmers market.  Trust me.  This is better.

Turns out, injuries multiply.  First, I chopped my thumb while cutting a bagel.  In an attempt to do everyday tasks and *not* hurt the injured thumb, I’ve dropped a crock pot on my head, burned the back of my other hand, and suffered a variety of slings and arrows which sent me whimpering to my couch- where I discovered that I instinctively use my thumb to turn pages on my kindle.

The worst part of this is that for two weeks well-meaning people have given me tips and hints for cutting a bagel.  Trust me.  I can cut a bagel.  This was not the fault of the bagel. It could have been a piece of fish on the cutting board.  This was all me not practicing good knife skills.

We live for our bread machine, and our incredibly sharp, serrated bread knife and I are (were) best friends.  My hubby and I were joking around, and I turned to face him while making a decisive cut to sever that last bit of bagel crust.

Yup.  Insert blood, guts and gore here.  The bit of thumb on the cutting board wasn’t going back on. Very fitting that we had just seen a production of Sweeney Todd the day before.  Not a fan of meat pies, but I was strangely reluctant to throw it away.

20160223_162244.jpgThe past two weeks could have been called “painfully discovering 101 tasks that need two thumbs”.  If ever a time for armpit knitting, this was it.  Sadly, I don’t have super long needles!

In case you ever need it, here’s an alternate knitting grip.  This is my sad attempt to finish the octopus sweater (aka St Brigid by Alice Starmore).  Yes, Octopus sweater. That’s a story for another day.
20160227_192320Life did not cooperate!.  I had no luck opening jars, tying my shoes or zipping anything. I stupidly forced my swollen bandaged thumb into a pair of mittens and then got stuck. More disturbing, I developed a phobia regarding the knife involved.  Here’s the psycho knife.  I am convinced it has a taste for my blood.  From this day forward, it is Bob’s job to pre-slice all bagels that enter the house!

As I type this, I’ve just realized having a bagel boy isn’t a bad thing…  hmm.  Next step is to figure out a way to get the vacuum cleaner to attack me.

On the plus side, I did have some enforced down time.  I taped an enormous wad of gauze over my thumb and read The Paper Magician trilogy by Charlie Holmberg.   The short review: It’s charming!  Nicely written with a clear, interesting world building, good characterizations and an interesting plot.   Long review will come later.


Spring, please!

Most years, I love winter.  I love curling up under a quilt with a dog or two in my lap. Wearing thick, cuddly sweaters while drinking hot cider.  Coming in from snowshoeing and toasting my backside in front of the fire. I even like shoveling snow.

This winter has been awful.  It’s been burn-your-face cold alternating with  help, I’m trapped to the hip in salty slush-sand.

Yesterday, as it rained on the nice fresh snow again, my mood went from simple “let me play with the colors of nature to find Mary Oliver’s color”  to “hey, I have an idea for a Latin American garden”  to full-on gardenfest.  Geranium pinks, hydrangea purples and blues,  emerging bulb greens.  If I can’t have fun snow, then I’m ready for Spring!

The garden skeins are fun and fairly simple to do.  The greens were layered emerald green, kelly green and a bit of turquoise blended for variation.  I laid turquoise blue, violet and pink stripes in between the green sections and let the colors bleed.  I did some skeins with the color stripes reversing (green, purple, pink, purple, green)  and some with repeats (green, blue, violet, pink, green).  I didn’t have a pattern in mind for this, so I went for a shortish repeat that would make a nice color pattern on a basic sock.

I did get a little development work done.  I don’t know where this one will end up.  It’s quiet and soft without being muted. The base is a mill spun 80% merino/ 20% camel fingering yarn with a lovely natural camel-y color.  I love working with tan bases because you just know up front it’s going to be an earthy skein.

I pressed the skein into a thin sheet and used a syringe and my fingers to paint a watercolor across the yarn canvas.

I did end up wrapping and steaming this one, but for these watercolor painted skeins, I should set up a steamer tray that will keep the canvas flat.  In this case, the color mixing worked nicely.  I used some ruby red which made a nice burgundy wine when blended.  By the square inch, this is fairly balanced across the colors, but the turquoise definitely pulls everything together and stands out.

Even accounting for wet/dry color variation, I lost much more of the color than I was expecting.  I was going for Marquez- Hundred Years of Solitude.  Instead, it’s very English garden.   Still, a good first step.  I like the English garden look, so yea for that.  Best of all, I have a much better idea of the colors and saturation required for the Marquez painting.  Now I have to figure out how get it on the yarn!


Life Rafts & Mary Oliver

bamboo-870219_640Imagine your ship is sinking.  You only have a few moments to take action.  You can see an island just a short distance away, but it’ll be years until you are rescued.  Who would you want with you on that raft?  What supplies? And in my case, which books?  Books are up there with food, water, shelter.

Dream Work by Mary Oliver would be safely wrapped in a plastic case and bungee-corded to the raft right next to the fishing gear and the knives.

The rhythms of her poems recenter me.  She paints beautiful scenes that draw out thoughts tamped down by day to day life.  Picking a set of colors feels impossible.  Her work is full of nature imagery and moves from wide, open grand scale colors to a single shade.

I couldn’t begin to review her work other than to say it is awe inspiring.  Read it.

The best part of preparing to test-dye for a poet is rereading the work.  If you aren’t familiar with Mary Oliver, here are some links to get you started:

Peter Kagan and the Wind


In my heart, I’ll call this yarn Peter Kagan & the Wind, but considering that name is already taken, here is North Sea on shetland wool. I find shetland challenging to dye because the damp yarn has a halo  ( aka fuzz ) makes it hard to tell what the final color will look like when dry.   This is about 70% dry and coming up much more nicely than I deserve considering that I was seat of the pantsing things.


These were snow dyed using less snow that I should have.  I added a 1/4 c of water part way through.    The next time I do this, I will pack the snow more firmly or add ice cubes to the snow to get that extra bit of water.

The dyeing technique was very straightforward.  I soaked the yarn for a long while in water with vinegar.  Then I put the yarn in a turkey roasting pan and filled the pan with snow.  I sprinkled green, blue, black and silver dyes lightly over the snow.  I spread the silver evenly, then put blue and green pockets and a few areas of black.  On top, I spread another layer of silver. In all, I used about 1.5 teaspoons of dye split across 6 different colors.  About 40 minutes in, I was running low on moisture in the pan, so I added a 1/4 c. water.  I also sprinkled a bit of water on the bare areas to increase the dye wicking into the drier fiber. For the last 10 minutes of dyeing, I rocked the pan and washed all of the yarn in the blended dyes to do a quick overdye.

I don’t time how long the yarn takes to cook anymore.  I put the oven temperature at 300 degrees, cover the pan with foil and then leave it until my temperature probe hits the desired number.  Once it hits the goal temperature, I drop the temperature to 225-250F depending upon the goal temperature and leave it alone.

I brought this yarn up to 180F with hopes of separating the black.  I probably should have gone up to 200, but I did get the look I wanted.  The black broke into blue and a very dark green in places.

Once I had the yarn up to temperature and the oven reset to 225F, I cooked the yarn for 15- 20 minutes with the internal yarn temp hanging out around 170ish.  Then I did the 10 minute overdye by rocking the pan and adding a bit more water and letting it cook for another 10 minutes.  After that, I poured off the excess dye because I didn’t want the overdye to wash out the snow effect.

I let the yarn rest in the sink.  When it cooled, I rinsed out the excess dye and hung the skeins to dry.

Which lasted for about 10 minutes when I started playing with them, looking at the colors.  Waiting for yarn to dry is the hardest part of dyeing.

Bonus for today: I didn’t spill anything or set anything on fire.  Any dyeing day that doesn’t warrant a call for hazmat clean up is a good one!

Chantefable : Starting with a blank page


Dyeing yarn starts with a blank page.  Here’s a pile of works in progress.  At the center is a superfine merino worsted weight. Underneath is some merino/camel fingering weight and a superwash merino/nylon sock yarn.  So many choices!

Many folks take inspiration from scenery and photos.  My inspiration comes from the images created by storytellers and folk singers.  Today, I am designing a yarn inspired by the incredibly talented folksinger and storyteller, Gordon Bok and his chantefable, Peter Kagan and the Wind. In a chantefable, the storyteller intermixes the spoken word, singing and music to tell a tale.

Peter Kagan and the Wind is a beautiful song about a fisherman, the love of his selchie wife, and a battle with the elements.  If you’d like to hear it, here’s a link to a youTube video

Peter Kagan and the Wind Video

Peter Kagan is a fisherman who lives on the North Atlantic.  His wife is a selchie, a shapechanger who can move between seal and human form.

The folklore about selchies varies.   In some stories, the seal sheds her skin and comes to dance on shore in human form.  If a man steals the skin and keeps it hidden, she will stay with him until she can steal it back.  In others, love-starved women cry tears into the sea to call Selchie men to them.  No matter what their sex, the selchies are always beautiful and beguiling.  In Mr. Bok’s story, Peter’s wife is kind, and they are happy together.  When Peter Kagan put out to sea, she would keep watch and call him home if the danger was coming.

In Peter Kagan and the Wind, Peter heads out to fish the North Atlantic despite his wife’s warning that a storm is coming.  The day begins well, but the storm comes in.  The song becomes a duel between Kagan and Wind.  The Wind fights to take the Kagan and the boat into the sea.  With the help of his Sail,  Kagan uses all of his sailor’s skills to get home. The wind can’t beat Kagan by trickery, so at last

“The Wind brings ice and snow.  The wind blows long and long and black.”

Kagan is forced to curl in the hull of the dory with the Sail wrapped around him, trying to stay warm.  He is dying.  As Kagan lies dying, he dreams of his wife coming to him.

Down the smoking, storming sea she came.

Over the rail of the dory she came, laughing to his arms.

And all in the night and in the storm they did lay,

and the Wind went away, and the storm went away, and in the morning they found him…

…asleep, with a sail wrapped around him.

And there was a seal, lying there with him, curled over him like a blanket,

and the snow was upon the seal’s back.


Building a yarn is about putting together the phrases and images left by the story.

What weight yarn?  What style of dyeing? And finally, what colors?  In this case, everything came together.  A thicker yarn that could be used for warm hats or a sweater.  Ice & snow dyeing because- well, ice & snow & dying are right there in the story.  Snow dyeing will also give a wonderful blend of colors that mirrors light pulling colors into the darker water.  I’d like to capture the ghostly quality of a winter sea- the shadows and unexpected pockets of light.

In the song, there is a wonderful phrase:  The wind blows long and long and black.
I see the black wind on the Atlantic with edges of icy grey pulling across the top of a smoky blue and green sea with silvery spume breaking from the tops of the waves.

So, there are my colors:  black, silver, green and blue

Technique: Ice/snow dyeing

Base: worsted weight merino.  Superfine because seals look so soft and slick in when they swim.

Tomorrow will be all about testing the colors to find the cold greens and blues of the North Atlantic.