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Autumnal explorations
September - December 2007

08 December 2007

Spending a lot of time gazing into a dyepot sharpens your sense of amazement at natural colours in the outside world. You occasionally get stopped in your tracks by an unexpected array of colour.

This frosty morning was one of those. I hope your monitor shows it clearly (click on the thumbnail for a larger view) -- it was really quite surprising. The morning had been grey, with a low winter haze blocking most light; then suddenly the sun was high enough in the sky to dissipate the dullness. The shadows in the frost are a vivid blue (almost royal blue). The contrast between white and green in the grass sets that blue off, and the remaining leaves, normally quite understated, can't help but shine forth with their own brand of vividness.

The season has been too tumultuous to allow much spinning or contemplation -- but it only takes a moment for a vision like this to strike home.

I want to do something with these colours!

01 December 2007
(Wow, what happened to November???)

The Knitting & Stitching shows have come to an end for the year 2007 -- and before I say anything else, let me congratulate and thank the 83 nice people who took my silk spinning classes in Birmingham, Dublin, and Harrogate. You were making lovely yarn, all of you, and watching you blossom into it was truly grand!

The shows claimed much of my time and energy this autumn, as did another effort: my friend Shirley and I were again co-editors of the Braid Society's annual journal, Strands. The disarray you see on my desk (left) accurately reflected the other parts of my life....

Editing is a lot like spinning, actually. You start with material that's chaotic and not necessarily attractive, and bit by bit you transform it into something of beauty and value. :-)

The marigolds that amazed me so in October are gone now, but I can conjure their presence with the magic of the dyepot (right). The dyes at work here are synthetic dyes, but their colours are absolutely, positively Marigold!

Later this winter I'll do a true marigold dyebath, using flowerheads harvested during the summer. That's a different kind of conjuring trick: the simmering dyebath brings summer sunlight into the middle of the winter. The fragrance of marigold will fill the house (whether you love it or hate it, it's a summer smell!) -- and at the end of it all, we'll have a lovely warm yellow. ...For the moment, though, it's synthetic dyes in an acidic solution burbling away on my stove. The colour is a lovely undulation of orange and yellow. There are many paths to happiness.

It's nice to be home. Neither the mountain of laundry nor the tall stack of waiting paperwork can dim that pleasure! The mornings are increasingly wintery; a sip of hot coffee slows the moment to allow full, deep appreciation. There is beauty. Life is good.

21 October 2007

There's life in the flowerboxes yet!

This glorious marigold jumped into my hand this morning, ignoring my entreaties for it to stay put on its stem. Isn't it remarkable?? (Click on the photo for a larger view -- it's worth it!)

We're still in the season of Knitting and Stitching shows, and it's starting to feel "normal" to always be in preparation for the next one. Because I'll be teaching at the next one (Dublin!), those preparations involve the usual braiding kits and so on, but also making spindles and setting up silk kits for my classes.

The spindles are a pleasure, even when there are a lot of them to be done. There's something satisfying about working with wood, and I love the smell of the oil I use to finish them. They look so tidy, all lined up after sanding... and they make a nice sound when they finally get to nestle down together in the box that will go in my suitcase.

The class kits are a pleasure of a different kind. Last year, I packed the full kit for each student into a single baggie: spindle, silk fibre, a resource list, and a pictorial synopsis of the workshop. This year I decided to offer dyed silk instead of natural tussah; and because we all experience colour differently, the baggies of silk all go in a big bin, and students can choose their own. Packaging the different colours into class-sized packets is a real joy. :-)

Coloured silk means, of course, that the dyepots are back in action again. The colours most often chosen in the first round of classes were blue, pink and purple -- so they're at the top of the dyeing list. The hands-down loser in the colour offerings was yellow (no one chose it!). ...I'm not sure what that means, or if it will be different for students in a different region; but like most things having to do with colour, it's interesting.

That nubbly silk fibre is still calling my name, over in the basket at the end of the room. I'm doing my best to ignore it, but the resolve is starting to crumble....

08 October 2007

I've been multiplexing a little more than usual this month, and the result is not exactly what had been planned....

The Knitting and Stitching shows continue, and the array of colour so nicely laid out in lines (left) is a set of warps for braiding kits! (Click on the photo for more detail.) These warps will become Fill-the-Gap braids, a seven-strand structure that's as pretty as it is fun to do. (These braiding kits will one day be available on this website, but not this week!)

The bulk of my time recently has been devoted to putting the final touches on Strands, the annual journal of the Braid Society. It's about ready to be turned over to the printer, and darned if it isn't another wonderful issue. :-)

Stay tuned for more actual spinning adventures, due to recommence after the London Knitting & Stitching show. (I can hardly wait! I have this baggie of a nubbly, noily silk blend calling my name, and it would be so exciting to see it combined with coloured silk....)

End notes, for inquiring minds

♦  The Knitting and Stitching shows are annual events, held each fall in Birmingham, London, Dublin and Harrogate. I'll teach classes in silk spinning in all venues except London. Click here to learn about the shows' dates, times, classes and prices.

♦  The Braid Society is an organization of people who are passionate about braids, narrow bands and cords, and who gather together to share techniques for making them (click here for more information).

01 October 2007

Colour and dyepots; dyepots and colour.

I've been enchanted by colour this year. Not being satisfied with just getting one tone, or one set of undulating tones, from a dyepot, I've launched myself into variegated dyeing.

It's deliciously satisfying in the dyepot, isn't it? ...It's also great fun to "paint" the silk top in joyful patterns, using squirt bottles and rubber-gloved fingertips.

The results so far, though, have been variable as well as variegated. It turns out that dyeing fibre is trickier than dyeing yarn or fabric, especially if you want to keep the fibre's ready-to-spin combed arrangement (as I do). Any twists in the silk top, even gentle twists, are likely to show in the dyed result as areas of faint colour -- or even no colour at all.

Dye batches like the one shown here have produced tops that look plenty colourful, but which have spun up into multi-coloured yarn in soft pastels, with occasional spots of enthusiasm where the tones are more vibrant.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The fibre combination to the left shows a green top and a variegated top wound together after being "tidied up" in the wake of the dyebath. What you see in the photo is just a suggestion of what you'll see in the yarn: a green garden with "blossoms" of pink, gold and pale blue.

I never would have suspected such combinations could lead to such pretty results (or that I'd use the word "pretty" to describe a pale colour, given my usual preference for vibrant tones) -- but the dyepot brings a steady array of surprises, and the drying fibre suggests colour combinations that I otherwise wouldn't think to try.

We dye and are happy. :-)

28 September 2007

Sometimes colour can surprise you. This sunrise (left) blazed into being at the same time I was dyeing pots and pots of silk -- dyeing, I might add, with an eye to combining some of the colours together in dazzling 2-ply yarns.

Having visions and intentions means you also need to follow through and experiment; and these yarns were no exception. In the days preceding the amazing sunrise, I'd spun one bobbin each of a lovely rose and a delicate aqua -- tussah silk, both.

They're colours that remind me of my mother. She must have had a scarf in these colours when I was small, probably the neck scarf she wore tucked into her winter coat. Whether that vision is right or not, I have no idea -- but the colours make me think of her. (Click the photos for more detail.)

They just seem right, plied together. The camera's flash accentuates the contrast and the sheen, but the photo still shows how those two colours play off each other.

Knitted into a swatch, they vie for your eye's attention, especially in garter stitch -- much in the same way they set each other off in that magical sunrise.

Thus, Craft copies Nature, which then echoes Craft with colours of approval.

02 September 2007

Today is the first Sunday in September. Here where we live, it's the day of the annual ceremony.

Just across the street from our building, a memorial tombstone bears the names of three young men who were killed in a random act of war barbary at the end of August, 1944.

Each year (on the first Sunday in September) the local government hosts a ceremony of remembrance. They arrive in procession to the sound of formal drum-and-bugle melodies, with members of various veterans' groups carrying their groups' flags. The small crowd is made of people from the village, the mayor and other officials, a good number of now-aging veterans, and others (like me) who are relative newcomers, but who find this ceremony important and moving.

The ceremony itself is heartbreakingly simple. After a greeting from the mayor, another speaker briefly outlines the events of that day in 1944 and relates those events to our modern world; after which, a wreath is laid at the base of the tombstone, the flags are all lowered so their poles are horizontal, and the assemblage observes a full, powerful minute of silence.

What sets this ceremony apart from other war-remembrance events is in the story itself.

These three young men were not soldiers, but farmhands going about their daily chores. Farmhands. Civilians barely old enough to vote. As the failing Nazi army retreated from Paris, a handful of drunken soldiers broke from their contingent and came onto the farm. Seeing the young men working, they pulled them from their tasks and forced them at gunpoint to dig a grave ("Right next to the manure pile" a village woman told me last year. "I was a girl at the time, and I hid and watched it happen."). When the grave was finished, the young men were shot.

It is not an unusual story. It's a thing that happens every time a country is engaged in war, in any country, in any epoch. It is not part of the official war, but rather one of its side-effects, the meaningless cruelty that emerges when humans are under extreme pressure.

The young men who were shot were all in their 20s. At that age, they could be my sons. Their assassins could be my sons as well. ...How could a mother make sense of such a thing happening to her child, or committed by him? A tragedy like this can never be healed or explained; it has no logic in it.

This morning I listened to the music and speeches through the open windows of our living room, thinking about these things (as I do each year on the first Sunday in September). As I pondered, my eye fell on some of the dyed silk drying on hangers -- and I decided to make my own flag in tribute.

This story is beyond borders, beyond politics, and beyond time. Today's world is a place of many armed conflicts, all of them with stories like this unfolding at their edges. As thinking, compassionate human beings, we are sadly trying to understand things that cannot be understood.

The young men in the grave across the street were killed more than sixty years ago, but their story is a current event.

That's why it's important to remember.

Listen to the story.

01 September 2007

Last night I opened the package of new dye powders, ordered last week to replace the stuff that was finally running out... and my, are these fresh colours ever vivid!!

Whether or not this purple (left) will show on your computer screen, in real life it's strong enough to knock your socks off. ...And there's something extremely satisfying in that. ;-)

The fibre is, of course, tussah silk. Its destiny is to become part of the kits I hand out to students in this fall's silk-spinning classes, which take place during the Knitting & Stitching shows in England and Ireland.

Silk and colour aren't the only preparations going on here, of course.

Students need spinning tools as well! In my living-room workshop, it all starts with bits of wood, a small saw and sandpaper (left), and by late evening, there's a bouquet of spindles ready to be oiled, waxed and finished! (right)

Tomorrow's task will be finishing these spindles, then making more. This year's classes at the Knitting-and-Stitching shows will require a total of 120 spindles -- which really means 130 or so, because it's always good to have "spares".

For the vendor hall of the show, I am part of the "Braidmakers' Workshop", a group dedicated to luring... er, inviting people to enjoy the pleasures of making "narrow wares": bands, braids, cords and trims. That means these prepartions also include documents, price tags, and kits, kits, kits....

It's a productive, busy time! :-)

End notes, for inquiring minds

♦  The dyes used in today's work are acid dyes from Fibrecrafts in Surrey, England (click here for more information). The vibrant purple is the colour called "Violet".

♦  The Knitting and Stitching shows are annual events, held each fall in Birmingham, London, Dublin and Harrogate. I'll teach classes in silk spinning in all venues except London. Click here to learn about the shows' dates, times, classes and prices.

♦  The spindles I make for my students are available for purchase, if you'd like one for yourself (click here for more information).

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