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Summer into Autumn 2013

14 November 2013
Colour and influence

A new day brought a new visitor (left). This beautiful individual is known in France as a Peacock of the Daytime, and though you usually see them in late spring, it's apparently not all that unusual to spot them at this time of year, too. So here it was, in the living room, warming itself in the early morning and waiting for the sun to climb higher in the sky.

Without my thinking about it, this butterfly touched and affected my sense of colour for an entire day. And maybe more.

One of the bits of magic I get to do at the shows is make an inspiring warp for weaving a narrow band. I like to choose a blend of colours and textures that catch the light, attract the eye, and (if it's good) make the heart sing -- so the threads in the warp make it easy to start a conversation about weaving. The siren song of the colours and textures draws people to the process. I love that.

The yarns in the demo warps of the first two Knitting & Stitching shows had a very autumnal feel to them: warm shades that echoed the turning leaves, a flash of green here and there, some hints of shadow, and a comfortable balance between glistening sheen and matte cotton.

The variegated ribbon makes the band appear more complex than it really is -- but the effect is lovely. The variegations move from green through gold to amber, orange and deep rust, then climb back toward a golden green; and the ribbon itself is sleek and shiny. All the yarns play a role in the band's pattern, but the ribbon dominates the way the band feels. It is smooth and cool, to the point where it's hard to believe most of its yarns are actually cotton.

I was about to wind a new demo warp.
Enter the butterfly.

The blue "eye" spot on each wing is stunning. It flashes in the light as the creature moves, and because it's not a colour you expect to see on an insect, it's all the more amazing. (Click on the small image at right to see a clear detail view.)

The blue catches the eye and the imagination, and it shifts the ochres and mahogany tones in other parts of the wing into a new dimension. It's mid-November, and there's a tinge of the miraculous about this whole colour play....

My plan had been to wind a new warp identical to the warp used in the last two shows -- but under the influence of those gentle wings, everything changed.

There's now a medium blue tying the other colours together, and the new variegated ribbon runs from navy through deep pink, to red, then orange and gold, and finally slips through olive green and back to navy.

The effect is still autumnal -- but shifted toward blue. The deep tones in the new warp are a sparkling midnight indigo, and the counterpoint to the blue is red: cranberry and plum.

The new warp echoes the mist at dawn and the last fruits of the year.
And a miraculous November butterfly.

12 November 2013
A change in the season

You know the season's changing when They start coming inside.

This sensitive and observant creature (left) appeared on the blue lampshade near my sander the other evening and took careful note of everything I did. We don't think much about how we look to insects, and usually don't imagine their observing us -- but I can assure you that this little green supervisor turned his head repeatedly to get a clear view of me as I moved around.

The noise from my work didn't seem to disturb him, but he found my movements interesting. I wonder just what it was that he saw?

After some thought, he concluded that he disliked the flash from the camera, and when my back was turned for just a moment, he vanished.

I loved those pink eyes.

Shortly after that visit, I had another friendly helper near my sander (right). At first glance, I thought, "Oh great, a brown beetle," but then took a closer look -- and saw beauty. Click on the small image to see a bigger version, and maybe you'll understand what I mean.

We looked at each other. I took photos. The beetle walked slowly across the stack of heddles, then vanished -- only to reappear at the window more than 12 hours later. A handsome creature, really.

I loved the pattern on his back, the striations in his antennae and legs, and the amazing, Egyptian texture of his folded wings.

After a gentle conversation, I set him outside among the plants, and when I looked again a bit later, he was gone.

With not one, but two unusual visitors in quick succession, I started wondering if the weather was about to change -- a shift toward freezing, for example, or the icy lashings of a major November storm. Do they know things we don't, these small creatures?

Of course, once you start looking, you see friendly life forms everywhere. This spider (right) was parked on the frame of my living room window, apparently waiting patiently for a good opportunity -- or at least a decent meal. Her body was not quite 1 cm wide -- so though she wasn't huge, she wasn't a dainty little spindly spider, either.

If you click on the photo for a better view, you'll see she also has attentive, alert eyes -- and though she didn't turn her head to watch my movements, I know she saw me.

There's no main point here -- just that the season is changing and creatures who normally spend all their time outdoors are wandering into my workspace. And as I meet them here, I see that they are beautiful. It turns out there's beauty everywhere. Even when it shows itself in a small and unexpected package, it's enchanting.

(Also, it would appear that I'm quite willing to make friends with everyone, no matter how many legs or eyes they might have at their disposal. Well, hey. It takes all kinds.)

10 November 2013
Show time!

Another silence, another story: two of the three autumn Knitting & Stitching shows have passed, and I'm fully immersed in preparation for the third and final show: Harrogate. It opens in just over a week.

Work, work, work, work, work.

The amount and variety of preparation needed for these shows still surprises me. There's plenty of woodworking, of course (spindles for classes, heddles, shuttles); and there's lots and lots of printing (everything comes with instructions!) -- but there's also some very satisfying yarn handling: warps for braiding kits, thread packs for classes, yarns for tablet-weaving kits, and the ever-magical demo warp for weaving.

And what's so satisfying about yarn handling, you might ask?

It's this: it gives me a fabulous excuse to plunge into the deepest recesses of my yarn stash in search of something exquisite.

The stash here is rich with hidden wonders. Delicious threads are dallying there in the shadows, just waiting to emerge and sparkle in the light of day -- the better to entice, delight, and inspire.

A good stash is a source of joy.

It's still work, of course -- but what a pleasure to play with such a rich array of colour and texture! The braiding warps (left) offer a grand opportunity to mix, match, contrast, blend and experiment -- and to get a nice assortment of colours, it's important to wind a generous quantity of warps.

The thread packs (right) are for my Tassels class, and they offer a different sort of pleasure. First, there's the thread choice -- whatever fancy yarn catches my yarn fancy. Next, each little spool of thread gets wound on my old quill winder. After winding the lot of them (about 70 spools this time), I get to arrange and pack them in combinations that please my eyes. It's a true feast of texture, shine and colour -- happy eyes, happy fingers.

Working and playing at the same time -- it's good stuff. :-)

The Knitting & Stitching show in Harrogate runs from November 21st through 24th. For full information on the show (including classes), click here. It's worth the trip!

23 September 2013
Round and round

Yes, I'm in a spin, and lovin' the spin I'm in....

This is an old picture. It's blurry and has stacked cardboard boxes in the background, and it shows my pre-weight-loss grandmotherly shape -- but it makes me happy. And it's very appropriate right now, because thanks to this somewhat-funky home-made wheel, I am spinning again. Yayy!

This is a wheel I built 7 or 8 years ago, using only ordinary stuff from my local hardware store and no power tools. My woodworking skills have advanced a lot since then -- but skills or no skills, this is a very nice wheel to use. It's hand-cranked and extremely simple: the drive wheel drives a spindle.

Just like a charkha or a great wheel, this spindle wheel exerts no pull on the yarn or fibre during drafting. Ergo ipsum lorem factoid: it puts no strain on the drafting hand.

Or maybe I should say, it puts no strain on the injured drafting hand. I'm almost giddy with what this means to the quality of everyday life. No more sitting idly, waiting for the mumble-mumble hand to heal so I can DO something. No more wistful sighs as I gaze at the silk fibre in the corner. No more sad daydreams as my eye wanders from fibre to spindles to wheels to looms, knowing they're feeling just as idle as I do....

This blurry picture is a photo of sanity. I can once again spin for more than fifteen minutes without reaching for the ibuprofen, and I'm most grateful.

Postscript: I also love this blurry photo because it shows beautiful Ninette enjoying her supervisory role with every bone in her body. Supervision came naturally to her. She found it relaxing. Ninette left this plane of existence in early June this year, and I miss her sorely.

20 September 2013
Flower power

After multiple washes of rain, the gardens outside have emerged blinking in the sunlight. There's a crispness just under the heat of the afternoon. Autumn draws nigh.

Looking beyond the garden, here's evidence that even faded flowers are rich with potential. This colourful jumble (left) is a small harvest of spent flowers from the flowerbeds outside our door. Some are nothing but vestiges; others still have a few petals. In the pot: rudbeckia heads (a.k.a. black-eyed susans), marigolds and dahlias. All are but an echo of their former glory, but I love them just the same.

It's a dyepot, of course -- the first of several to grace the stovetop this past week. It felt like a great luxury, to cook up a nice soup of flowertops, then prepare some of my carefully-hoarded silk stash for the plunge....

I had help (right). He (or maybe she) came in with the flowers and lingered in the kitchen for several days, walking here, strolling there. He (or she) didn't seem interested in any kind of flight, but was content to wander, explore, investigate and watch. The head is at the very end of what looks like a nose, but is actually a neck. The neck is quite flexible.

I set my new friend on the sill of the open window after the second batch of flower dyeing. It was almost dawn. He (or she) wandered away down the roofline at first light.

One of the aspects of dyeing with plants that pleases me beyond measure is the unpredictability of it. Sure, I know in general what the dyepot will yield (in the case of these flowers, some sort of yellow); but there are too many variables to predict exactly what will emerge after the bath is done and the fibre has been washed. Will the yellow be clear and bright, or muted with a greenish cast? Will it lean toward a warm beige, or will it be strong and brassy? The results are shaped and determined by the varieties of plants, but also the condition of the flowertops (some of these were actually starting to decay), the weather patterns of the past few weeks, the way the summer unfolded, whether or not the plants were fed some kind of fertilizer.... The variables lend excitement to the process. Even if you know where you're going, the result always feels like an enchanting bit of magic.

The result this time: pure gold. In the past weeks there have been four dye baths, each unique. Some of the fibre is an astonishingly deep gold. Some is pale and scintillating. This is all bombyx silk, and it will be an absolute delight to spin and to use -- just as it's been pure delight to dye.

By chance, as I was stashing things away, I set the batch of deep gold silk next to some silk caps dyed earlier this year with logwood, their purple so rich and dark that it's nearly black. Click on the small image to see a bigger version -- the contrast took my breath away.

I sense that that combination may have a future. My hand is not yet sturdy enough to spin caps, but when it is.... Doesn't that seem like a lovely contrast? Honey and sunlight blending with the depth of a moonless night.

Of course, seeing silk fibre always makes me happy -- but you never know what it's really like until you've made it into yarn; and you never know what the yarn is like until you've used it.

The yarns in this photo were carefully spun on a spindle (with the brace on my finger -- I was so pleased that it worked!), then crocheted. In the interest of science, of course.

Three of the four dye lots are represented in that picture.
Can you see them all? ;-)

12 September 2013
Not stymied

The worst thing about having a hand out of commission is the inactivity. Certainly, I can do things, but spinning? weaving? knitting?? Nope. Out of the question.

It's enough to drive a fibre addict mad. Frantically. Barking.

Finally (finally!) a few weeks ago, I thought of my crochet hooks. But of course!! A quick experiment proved that crochet was, indeed possible; and the world suddenly seemed brighter and filled with hope. :-)

On the overly-full chair next to me sat a large bag of thrums. These weren't thrums from weaving, but rather the yarns that are a byproduct of making spindles (I need to balance them before they can go to you, my friends; and so I balance them by spinning silk). Also in the bag: small balls of yarn from my spinning classes -- variable in quality, because even though they're my own spinning, they're the ones that demonstrated "And here's how you can change from fine yarn to chunky yarn" as well as "Would you like to see how to fix lumps? Let me make some so I can show you."

They were yarns of many different lengths and characters, in many different colours -- but all silk, all spindle-spun, and all sitting in a bag with no predetermined destiny.

Those yarns are now on their way to becoming a granny-square-ish shawl. I think of it as a Thrum Shawl. It's triangular with a bit of curve to the sides, designed on-the-fly, with colours falling (mostly) randomly. As I type, it's almost large enough to be wearable -- and I've chosen an edging, but will need to spin enough new yarn to actually accomplish that (I'm still working out a way to spin for more than short periods). The edging will be deep purple, in slightly dangly jags. I can't wait to see how it turns out!

It's interesting to see how well the variable yarns work together. While crocheting it, I worried that the teaching yarns would be so irregular that they'd stand out (a few had some remarkable lumps!); but once they're crocheted into a fabric, they calm themselves down and blend right in. It's like magic.

The crochet stitches breathe new life into yarns that (frankly) looked like they should become pillow stuffing. The near-random arrangement of colour sets each tone off in a fascinating way. I find myself crocheting, then just sitting with the shawl in my lap, gazing at the colours and textures.

Pretty good rescue. :-)

05 September 2013
It's a hand-and-a-half

I have one of the best excuses ever for my prolonged silence: the long finger of my left hand is in prison!

That's good news, actually. The brace has made a huge difference in the healing process, and it's also made me aware how many times each day I've been unknowingly bashing my fingers against things (usually I'll notice the bump only if it hurts -- but with a brace, it makes noise as well).

Hands are important. As spinners, weavers, knitters, crocheters, tatters, braiders, knotters and seamstresses, we depend on them. I've thought many times about parts of me I could do without -- and always come to the same conclusion: I need my hands the same way I need my heart and my lungs.

A friend of mine used to say that you know you're getting old when you find yourself always talking about your ailments. I don't know if that's true... but this is now a story of healing, and even though we're not yet at the happy ending, we've at least moved into the part where there's hope. :-)

Here's the history: at the start of March (as you may recall), I fell and landed squarely on the end of the aforementioned finger. At least, that's what I hear -- I was sleepwalking when it happened and knew nothing about it until the next day when I woke with a sore hand. The middle finger hurt a lot and was discoloured with deep bruising around the joint. It was also pretty swollen (left).

A month later, the finger had improved (right). It was still tender and still swollen, and it had a few unnatural bumps on its back and side -- but its overall colour was much better. Improvement is improvement, and I figured it was on the mend.

Then I was away for a while, travelling. During the first couple of weeks, the finger kept (slowly) improving. Then it stopped. Completely. It was not better. It was sore and weak and stiff and swollen and every day the same -- and it started to frighten me. ...So on my return, I saw the doctor -- and after some tests, ended up with the Amazing Brace.

To keep this from being like a medical text, I'll wrap the saga up quickly. Just 12 hours after putting on the brace, the swelling at the base of my finger was gone! Within a week, the finger started taking on a regular finger shape, the kind you might see on a normal Human From Earth. And it's been improving ever since.

Here's a thumbnail-photo chronicle of the gradual shape-shift, taken with the not-so-great (but always-handy) camera of my tablet. The lighting (often ghastly) varies with the day. The timespan, start to end, is six weeks.

Perhaps best of all, unless I bump the finger or try to close my hand, there is no more pain. The hand is very stiff now, and weakened -- but it's nearly a hand again, and I'm grateful!

In the past week I've been able to do a few things with fibre and yarn (at long last!), and oh, what a relief that is!! I'll share some of it in the next few days. It's actually pretty cool to see what you can accomplish with just 1.5 hands at your disposal.... ;-)

I leave you with this thought: learn from my errors. Protect your hands.

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