This is my blog to share my adventures, misadventures, exploration, and experimentation with fibre- and as it turns out, with life as well. There is some of both. One thing leads to another. Collecting, spinning, weaving, dying, learning, building a web of relationships. Here we are: welcome.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Red Silk Saga Finale

You remember the Red Silk Saga. In a way it was its own success. The silk got untangled, but it still wasn't plied.

The merino/mohair singles have been sitting on their bobbins for months.  Since March, to be exact.  When it was cold and bare outside.  

I started this project with a vision in mind: a soft 3 ply yarn with red silk highlights. I was so proud of my first silk thread.. It was a little more uneven than I'd hoped for, but I thought the unevenness would work out ok, since the fine thread was meant as an accent.

I delayed. Well, there was a good reason for that, and a not-so-good reason.  One, I was nervous, because I started this whole project with a vision in mind of what I hoped it would look like when I finished. And I wasn't at all sure it was going to.And then there was the episode with the life-threatening hives, but we won't go into that.

Summer came. There those bobbins were, staring me in the face, and the weather was, shall we say, inclement.  Inclement by Vermont standards, which means both hot and wet, with frequent thunderstorms.  No excuses.  

I tried a few different ways of working the silk into the three merino/mohair singles, but none of them looked right.  I didn't want a barber pole look.  

Finally I held the silk and one of the merino singles together and ran them through the wheel quickly in the same direction they were spun ("S" twist).  

It added some extra grist, but not so much they were kinked up.  

Then I plied all three together in a Z twist, and hoped it would come out something like what I envisioned.  

I was relieved to see that though there was still a little bit of barber pole look, it was because the yarn lay parallel on the bobbin. In the yarn, the red was nicely broken up, and formed something like the accents I'd been aiming for. 

Whenever I spin, I have a vision in my head of what the yarn might be turned into.  Throughout the process of spinning the merino/mohair singles, I kept seeing a 1930s beret style hat, with a narrow band.  I think this yarn would look very nice crocheted up into a hat like that.  Or a shawl.

It is lusciously soft, and with nearly 8 ounces of yarn, it could even be made into a dressy top, or a cardigan for a child.Makes me wish I could still knit and crochet.

After the bobbin with the red silk ran out, the other two bobbins still had singles of merino/mohair on them, so I plied a small bonus skein of plain 2 ply. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Romeldale: the story of a rescue

Remember this photo from a few posts back?  This is the Romeldale painted top/roving  that I got from a friend.  Romeldale is a sheep breed originally developed in the early 20th century in California by one family, who are still raising the sheep, but now in Oregon.  The sheep started with a cross between imported NZ Romney rams and Rambouillet ewes, and then standardardized for the fine, white wool that large wool manufacturers wanted.*  It is lovely stuff for the hand-spinner, too. 

It does felt.  When I pulled the top/roving out of the bag, I found that all of it was slightly matted, though just short of felting. In the process of dying, it had apparently either been overcooked or exposed to abrupt temperature changes. In addition, I found that there were two batches. In both, the colors were lovely, but blocky.  In one, the sections of colors tended to separate as it was drafted. The other was splotchy, with long sections of white interspersed with bands of color. Neither appealed to me, though I loved the colors.  So my problem was how to get what I had to what I wanted:  

I decided to process the two batches separately.  Both of them were going to need to have the fibres loosened.  This I could do by first "popping" them--  holding a section just long enough so that the fibres wouldn't separate and giving it a quick snap.  I did that along the entire length of each section of wool, then gently attenuated it into a roving-thick rope.  

I broke that roving into four equal length sections, laid them together so the fibres lay in the same direction, and attentuated them so they became again a single roving. After doing this several times, the blocks of color gradually softened into  more muted and shaded colors that merged with each other along the length of the roving.  

The batch with the long sections of white took more work.  Not only did it need to be attentuated many more times, I sometimes broke a section and moved it to another location to even out the colors.  I even moved a bit from the other batch to add a bit more color

The first I spun as a fairly chunky yarn.  The second is near lace-weight.  Laid side by side, you can tell they are related, and yet they each have a distinctive character.  

And they are both lovely and soft to the touch.  I think the thin one will become a scarf, and the chunkier one will be mittens, or a cap, or maybe a pair of soft winter slippers.  

 * Romeldale sheep does also come in other colors, but these were bred separately from the white commercial herds, in  joint effort with another breeder.  In the 1970s, a few sheep with badger faces showed up.  The breeders decided to work with the strain to develop a multi-colored sheep.  This became the California Variegated Mutant (CVM).  Same breed, but bred separately to keep the colors pure in the one case, and to maintain the color patches in the other. In time they will become separate breeds; some believe they already are. The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius is a wonderful source of information about western sheep breeds and other fibre animals. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Yep... more Corriedale

As everybody in the country knows, it is just plain hot out there. And here in the east, it is also way past muggy. I can't sit still for long, so I have been alternating reading with... yep, you guessed it. Combing out the rest of  that massive Corriedale fleece. Something I can do without working up a lather.

I got out the bag, and started pulling out chunks of fleece. And discovered something.  When I'd started preparing the fleece to wash (on that first miserably hot day), I first skirted the fleece, and set the pieces aside in a corner. My intent was to use them as mulch in the garden.  

Then I divided the rest of the fleece into batches to wash in my 4 bucket wash and rinse setup.  By the time I got through everything, I was wet, hot, and tired.  And without realizing it, I'd washed the skirted pieces and hung them up with the rest to dry.

I found out when I pulled out a clump of fleece that was not combable and certainly not spinnable. 

Duh.  I knew there was more, so I sorted through and removed them. They are now mulch.

I've gotten to the good parts now, so it's easier to figure out where the locks are and pull them to load the combs. It's lovely stuff. I do have to trim many of the cut ends-- the part next to the sheep's skin.  

Corriedale felts easily, and with the moisture and movement next to the skin, it sometimes folds over on itself as it grows and mats a bit.  This has good length, so not a loss and takes only a few seconds as I load the combs. 

Corriedale also has a lot of loft, as the photos show.  The loft is good for making something meant to keep one warm, but can also make taming the wool to spin a bit challenging.  It poofs when it is washed, and so sometimes the locks are almost unrecognizable!

That comb looks way overloaded, but isn't.  A comb should be loaded so that only 1/3 of the length of the tines are covered, which is about what is on the comb.  It's just that it then puffs out into a huge ball, made worse by the fact that the fibres are going every which way.  Combing will align them, remove what I call "clots" and debris and tangles.  

Here it is after just two passes.  The fibres have been aligned, and the mass is much more cohesive (though still characteristically lofty).  

It will need at least four more combings, because I know that lurking in that mass are still a lot of small lumpy things and some tangled fibres and even a little vegetative matter (VM for short).  

Combing is done, and I have pulled the fleece off the comb.  Most of the time, fleece is pulled off as roving, sometimes using a diz, but I have found that with a bulky fleece like Corriedale, I can get a better preparation by pulling it off hand over hand, which results in a small batt about 6 inches by nine inches. 

Starting with the end that came off the comb last, I encircle the batt firmly with the fingers of one hand, and with the other gently attenuate the batt, carefully sliding the fibres past eash other.   This results in an even, open rope about four feet long. 

Then I return to the end I started with, and attenuate into roving.  This time I give it a little twist and wrap it around my hand as I go.  The end is tucked in the middle with a pouf sticking out to pull out when I use it to spin. The result is a neat little "nest", all ready for spinning. 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Corriedale fleece adventure and my blanket stash

This summer has been sometimes stormy and cool. I started a fire in my wood stove the morning of July 4th to take the chill off! Other times it has been delightful, sunny and dry, and I've been able to get some yard work done. Then there are the hot and muggy days, when it is hard to do anything, inside or out. 

We get more of those now than we used to. And with Vermont weather, we don't always know when. We get weather from five different directions (seriously), and what we experience depends on what gets here first and how it is modified by what gets here second, third... etc.

So... a nice July day, cool but clear sunny morning. Perfect for washing one of the several fleeces waiting up in my storeroom (former bedroom).

I decide to do the Corriedale I was given a couple of years ago (it's the gooiest, might as well get it out of the way). Now I make a fatal (or nearly) decision. I decide to do the whole thing at one go.

Now there are two factors at work here. This was off a ram sheep, and in Corries the fleece varies in texture and length from one part to another, so normally I'd sort the sections and do them separately and spin them for different projects. But I am planning to use this and another Corriedale I'd processed last year to weave a blanket (someday), so I decide to let it mix together for texture.

The other thing is that Corridales have big fleeces anyway. And this one was huge. When I unrolled it, it was too big to lie flat in my bathroom. So I sort-of broke it up into similar sections, eight in all, and set to, filling my buckets with free hot water. 

My process involves four five gallon buckets set in my tub. The nice thing is that on a sunny summer day, my solar hot water panel provides lots of very hot water, so I can rotate the buckets out and always have fresh hot water for washing and rinsing. The only hitch in this is that when I go to dump the cooling water (it makes fantastic fertilizer), I have to haul the buckets down a flight of stairs from my deck. My house is on a hillside, so the back is an extra story off the ground. That's ok most of the time: it's good exercise and the buckets are empty on the return trip.

But the cool morning morphed into a warm one. Then a hot one, and the humidity rose with it. By noon the outside temp was close to 90F, and the humidity matched. And because of the steamy bathroom and having to go in and out, the house was just about as bad.

But in for a dime, in for a dollar. I was determined to get it done. With impressive efficiency if I do say so myself, I moved batch after batch from bucket to bucket, emptied, refilled, drained and pressed water from the batches of clean wool, and hung it from my clothesline and from my outside rack.

Done.  I could have taken photos of that, but frankly, I didn't feel like it. (The one here is from the last Corriedale, and the two storm photos below are from a storm last year.) My determination had turned into hot and sweaty and tired. 

Stripped, showered, dressed in dry, clean, loose, thin clothing. And looked out at my lovely white fleece drying... as two huge thunderheads moved in rapidly from the west and the south.


Grabbed my clothes basket, dropped the wool from the line into it. Put it in the mudroom, and ran for the rack while a wall of rain moved closer. I didn't even bother to take the fleece off: just folded the rack and carried it upright into the house. I have an antique fan rack that does not go outside, but sets up just fine in the foyer, and the rest of the wool went onto that.

It rained hard for about 15 minutes, and then the sun came out. Oh, well. The air was still heavy with moisture, and more rain predicted for the night, so I figured the wool could just stay where it was.

It took two days to dry, the air was so damp. And then we had a nice day, and it dried all the way. I began to comb it, which is something I enjoy doing.  It took a couple of days to comb half the fleece and fill a large box with nests, which was enough at one go. 
I started spinning. Because I was spinning chunky, that only took part of one day. Let it set overnight, and then I plied it. I do love the big bulky flier on my Matchless- eight ounce skeins at a go, more if I'm spinning fine.

Washed, that big eight ounce skein is handsome. Not perfect, but it looks good. And I feel satisfied at a job done well enough.

I still have a box of nests to spin. And half the bag of clean fleece to comb. I think when I get done, between it and the other Corriedale, and some miscellaneous chunkies I've done over the years, I'll just about have enough for my blanket. 

(No, I don't have a time schedule for getting it woven....)

A beautiful post-storm July evening.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dye Day: Day Camp for Grown-ups

Well, this happened June 13th, and I had it written and the photos all done by the next day.  Then something came up and then I forgot I hadn't posted it. A little late, but here it is, the report on my wool guild's dye day.  The best one ever, according to some folks who've been there forever.  I wish I could post photos of all of it: it was wondrous. But I forgot to take my camera. So I'll have to stick with sharing some photos of some of my own projects I took the next day. 

Some things are just too fun. There we were, a bunch of ladies, many of a certain age, others of a younger but mature age, and some young ones. To round things out and keep them interesting, one teen and two under ten. One of those was a boy. Were they on the sidelines? Nope. Not at all. But it was mostly a day of grown-up ladies wearing old clothes and playing with messy stuff. And having the time of our lives. The kids helped. They were right in the thick of things.

We do this every year, my wool guild, but this is the first time I've been able to go. Usually late May/early June is when I take my annual trip west to visit family out west (there are a lot of them). This year circumstances intervened, and so I got to go to the dye day. I sorted through my handspun stash, and picked out some of my skeins,some I felt were good candidates for experimentation. I gave them a good wash, and left them in the rinse bucket with just enough water to keep them damp.

Imagine a house on a hillside in central Vermont on a sunny June day. Imagine a semi-covered courtyard overlooking a sheep pasture and tree-covered hills. Imagine people sitting round the terrace alongside all of this, spinning, knitting, chatting, getting up from time to time to check a dyepot. 

Imagine- the joy of it- three propane cookers, dozens of dye pots, Crock pots repurposed as dye pots. Jars of multi-colored wool waiting to be “cooked” in a canning pot of hot water. Tables with a multitude of dye projects going on, skeins of wool being “painted” with dye, then wrapped like a burrito in plastic and put in a microwave (never to be used for food again). Imagine unwrapping one of those packages, the anticipation of the mystery within, rinsing the skein-- and another miracle of color to hang from improvised racks and trays along with hundreds of other skeins, and roving, and fleece and locks. An entire hillside transformed by color.

Times this by several hundred and you get the idea. These are mine, hung on a wooden clothes dryer after I got home.
Midday break for a potluck lunch. These folks have amazing potlucks. It's like going to a fine restaurant with friends. I'm talking GOOD cooking- appetizers, salads, main dishes, bread, you name it. Five desserts (I took small portions of three of them: when it comes to dessert, I sometimes have a hard time making up my mind). 

Fortified, we went back to dye some more.

I'd done dyepot dying before, mostly natural dyes I'd collected myself. This was my first major experience with commercial dyes. But I'm also a painter, and one thing I'd learned in my research is that the pigments used in dyes are the same pigments that are used in many artist's paints (and some in foods-- that's why Kool-Aid works as a simple, safe dye). I could visualize in my head-- to a certain degree-- how many of those dyes would interact.

Hogg Island Moss
That works well with dyepots, where you can see the dye before you put the wool in. Not so much with some of the other techniques, where random variables are likely to introduce some mystery into the process. And surprises, sometimes good, sometimes ok, sometimes awful. I got one of those- some Hogg Island roving that ended up looking sort of like camo. After I split it up and drafted several lengths together to mix up the colors, it spun up into a beautiful woodland moss medley.  From disappointment to delight.

And there is the one I thought was going to be mud, and it turned into unexpected magic:
Yarn, light, pigment,and magic.

I learned how to do things I might not have even tried on my own. The skein painting. I really don't care for most painted yarns I've seen (often referred to fancifully as “colorways”, a term that tends me make me feel a combination of amusement and nausea). But I've seen some that were fascinatingly lovely, that made me visualize how the yarn would work up and the colors interact. I wanted to try something like that. I had no idea how to go about it. That teenager I mentioned above? She turned out to be the expert. I watched her, asked for advice, and then I went wild. 

Spring in Vermont.  This photo does not begin to capture all the different greens in this skein!
  I will never miss another dye day as long as I live. I'll travel west some other month.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Red Silk Saga

I left off with the silk all spun, skeined, and ready to dye. Tied off the skein, dug up my big dye pot, and successfully dyed it pretty close to the same red as in my sample. 

I have a niddy noddy and a small windmill skeinwinder to skein yarn directly from the bobbin. What I don't have is an umbrella type swift for going the other direction, back on the bobbin or into a ball. (That's on the must get list for this year.) I decided to fiddle with my windmill skeinwinder to hold my silk while I rewound it.

Since I don't have a way to mount it horizonatlly, I decided to find a way to keep the yarn from pulling off the open dowels. I carefully fit the skein onto the winder, then stepped out of the room to get some large rubber bands.  I should have done it the other way round.

Unknown to me, Jelly Bean had been oberving me from under the loom. When I stepped away, she decided to investigate. When I returned, she was on my work table. She jumped down and scooted, her body low-slung, and rolled innocently on the hearth rug. I knew what that meant. Even before I saw the consequences. My heart leapt into my throat in dread.

Yes. The infamous cat tangle. I cried. Of course, I cried. My yards and yards of silk carefully (if imperfectly) spun as finely as I could manage. Half on and half off the skeinwinder, the thrill of it all to much for my cat to resist: thread must be tangled. And tangled it was.

The shock undid me. I despaired of being able to untangle such fine thread. I couldn't even take a photo of it.  But I couldn't just throw it away. I couldn't. I just couldn't. So I put the rubber bands in place to hold what remained, covered the whole thing, and for a week pretended it didn't exist. I worked in my garden.

Then it got muggy and started raining and thundering. I braced myself, uncovered the silk, picked up my bobbin, and tentatively picked at the mass on the table. An opening appeared. I picked a little more, careful to only lift and loosen, never to pull. An end appeared! I am joyful. 

Carefully I traced the end through the tangle, and opened it enough to get the bobbin through. I did it again, winding the inches on the bobbin as I went, careful, careful not to pull anything tight. I did a little at a time, then retreated to read, to do research on the computer, to sweep floors or do dishes. At the end of the day, there wasn't much on the bobbin, but there were openings in the tangle, and I had hope.  
It took a week, a little at a time, until one day I could see the tangle begin to disappear. 
And the next day it did disappear, and all my lovely red silk was on the bobbin. And I'm still hoping it is enough to ply with all of the wool/mohair. It looks so puny next to the those spools.

But my mind has not recovered from the shock and the intense effort of rescuing my silk. I am not ready to ply yet. I need to clear my mind.

I have always known that the day would come when I would no longer be satisfied with just the four wood bobbins (and now one jumbo plying bobbin) I have, and would need storage bobbins. The day came while I was untangling, knowing I would not be plying right away. 

So I went online in search of inexpensive storage bobbins. I looked at several, some made of cardboard, something like heavyweight ribbon holders, others made of plastic, sturdier looking.

Then I found some only a bit more expensive than the others, and with the nifty trick of being able to be wound on using my household drill.

 I ordered the color set*, and two days later the box arrived.

And here's my silk, all wound on. It's fun again. 

And now I am happily spinning some delicious polypay roving that a friend had space-dyed. Aren't I lucky?

* The bobbins are manufactured and sold by artUwear  and may also be available at other outlets.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spinning silk- with some mishaps along the way

Oops, I didn't intend to let two months get away from me like that. This is what it looks like outside now. It was 80 degrees F outside yesterday, 72F today. This happened all at once.  Brown and dreary and nippy one day, then warm and sunny  all this week.  Things are actually growing and blooming! 

I left off with three bobbins of  merino/mohair singles that I'd spun.  The roving came from a local shepherd who has her fibre processed at one of the many local mills that have sprung up in Vermont.  As I had spun, I kept envisioning a fine thread of silk running through the plyed yarn.  So I ordered a 2 ounce hank of Tussah silk to try. (Tussah is from wild worms, which eat sundry things and thus can vary in color and quality, but is usually yellow or golden in color, with a subtle sheen.)

The Tussah silk is lovely.  The color and the texture is luscious. And it didn't take me long to catch on to spinning it. I pulled off a handful, loosened it up, and spun a sample as fine as I could manage.  The first few feet are pretty awful, but I made a few adjustments in the tension, my fingers found the "feel", and it was actually pretty easy going, to my surprise!

I reeled off my sample into a wee skein, tied it with bits of string, and washed it gently.  Ready to dye.

Now, though I've done a fair amount of dying with natural materials, I've not done much with chemical dyes.  Last year, with all intents to do some serious dye experimenting, I bought some basics. I'm a painter and studied pigments, so I decided to start with primaries and do my own mixing, just as I do when painting.  There are two ways to approach this: from the red/blue/yellow pigment-mixing, just like in elementary school. It's a good, time-proven approach.

The other way is to use what I've seen some call "warm primaries", but what artists often call "secondary colors".  It's looking at color mixing from the standpoint of light, and it is the same method used when computers mix colors on the screen, and also by color printers.  The colors used are magenta, warm yellow, and cyan, though the dyes may be called other names.  I look for the actual pigments used, because that is how I learned to mix colors in painting-- and the pigments are the same! I also ordered black, both for a true rich black, and to be able to adjust the intensity of my dyes as I wished.  I like the clarity of the colors mixed this way.

So, while the mini-skein sat waiting in it's warm rinse, I made up the dye-bath.  Naturally,  I couldn't remember where I'd stashed my dye-pots.  Or, rather, they weren't where I was sure I'd stashed them. Or anywhere else I could think of.  So I raided the recycling for a largish metal can, and mixed the dye in it. 

I wanted a clear, intensely brilliant red, so, guessing a bit on the proportions, I used a plastic spoon to dip out a little magenta.  Then I used the tip of the handle to add a teensy bit of yellow.  For the record, I was wearing plastic gloves and a dust mask, with my hair tied back. (I do not have a photo of
this. I am not dexterous enough to measure dye and take photo at the same time!)  Mooshed the dye in a little boiling water, then added more hot water so that there was enough for my mini-skein to move around in.  Since I have citric acid, I added the proportionate amount to the dye, but white vinegar would have worked.

And yes, magenta and a bit of yellow make a wonderful red. It's like magic. Slide the silk in, keep at a low simmer for a while, poking and stirring gently periodically (chopsticks are great for this).  When it looked a bit darker than I was looking for, I dipped it out, and put it into another pot with simmering water to rinse, and let it cool.  Washed out the excess dye with Synthropol and warm water, and hung to dry.  Yep, red.  (And yes, it is wound on an empty toilet paper roll. I have a collection of these things.) 

I loved the color and loved the feel of the dyed Tussah.  But it didn't have the shininess that I wanted for my yarn.  Well, this was an experiment, qfter all and now I have most of the Tussah (almost 2 oz) to use in another project.  Something that will take advantage of it's yummy soft golden sheen.

So... I ordered some Bombyx silk top from a vendor who works with silk suppliers who have a commitment to social and environmental values.  Bombys silk is from cultivated silk, raised on mulberry leaves, and the silk is white, and very lustrous.

Silk "top" differs from top of other fibres. It is made either from cocoons after the moths emerge, which cuts the fibres, or from trims left from unreeled whole cocoons.  The fibres vary in length.  The top I got had fibres from about 2 inches to 5 or 6 inches.  It was finer and more slippery than the Tussock, but had the shininess I wanted. It took me longer to get the hang of spinning it fine without losing it, and the spinning is more uneven.  I decided that that was ok.  Since the silk is spun much more finely than the wool/mohair, and is meant as a color accent, the unevenness would add a bit more visual interest.

I allowed myself to take my time spinning.*  This was more of a challenge than the Tussock.  Not only is it finer, but the dry air of our late winter and delayed spring made the top flyaway.  I learned to draft it out gently, then fold it up in the palm of my hand, and spin from the fold to keep it under control.  I added to it every day, until I was sure (or at least hopeful) that I had enough.

I finished spinning the silk before the rash incident* began, with a week out for the Herx*.  Then it sat on the bobbin.  Because I felt crummy, and because I couldn't find my small dye pots.  I still don't know where they are.  So I dig out my large dyepot.

This weekend I wound the silk off into a skein, washed it, and hung it to dry.  It's pretty twisty, because I spun it with extra grist to help it hold together.  It is very fine, and I was afraid of breakage at the thinner spots, but when I wound off, not a single break.  To get an idea of the how fine it is, the ties are remnants of 8/2 cotton from a weaving project. And the fat pieces right in front are the parts I spun first, before my fingers found the way. 

Today I cleaned my kitchen and tomorrow I'll dye the silk.  I'm so excited!  Then I can finally ply this stuff, the three bobbins of merino/mohair singles and the red-dyed Bombyx silk singles.

Stay tuned.

*Actually, I had no choice.  There's a story here.  You can skip this if you want; it has nothing to do with spinning or fiber.  Just with the comedy we call life. 

I had bronchitis during the winter, and didn't really think about it, except I kept getting more and more tired.  When I finally went to the dr and on an antibiotic, it kicked the bronchitis, but  it also kicked my butt.  I have chronic Lyme, and it wasn't just the bronchitis that was making me tired. I was also sliding into a significant relapse.  The antibiotic put me into a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction from killing off the Lyme bugs: a week of massive headache and body pain, twitches, brainfog, fun things like that.  (You can look up Jarisch-Herxheimer if you want. It's too complicated to explain here- this post is grotesquely long as it is.)

So... back to my Lyme doctor, and back on treatment for Lyme. That's fine; I've done that before and I know the pattern.

But things get more complicated.

Two weeks later, I got a rash, I thought from some new jeans that had spandex in them (new experience for me).  The rash turned into hives, itched, and spread. I started taking Benedryl every 4 hours.  The hives kept spreading.

When it got to my face, I decided to go to the doctor (this is five days later, dumb, huh?).  My daughter drove me. By the time I got to the doctor, my face was swollen, my eyes slits, my lips fat, and my tongue was starting to swell.  New hives were sprouting in the few places I didn't have them.  This is not good. (I do have pictures of this stage, but you don't get to see them!)

Observation. Debate about whether I should to to the ER. Discussion about epinephrine. (It would probably have been a good idea.)  But I was still awake, alert, and breathing, and reluctant to go to the ER.

Doctor felt jeans were not primary cause. We talked over the timing and she felt that the most likely culprit was a blood pressure medication my other doctor had increased the dose on not long before.  She said it is well-known to cause the kinds of symptoms I had-- just not usually so bad.  (Later when I thought about it, I recalled itching and red spots on various parts of my body since last fall, which would coincide with when it was first prescribed).  And the antibiotics were things I'd taken before with no problems.

We agreed that I would go off all antibiotics just in case, stop the BP med, period, take Clariton in the daytime and the Benedryl at night (so I wasn't groggy all day). She prescribed an EpiPen for me, and told me to have it near me at all times.  I had to raise my hand and affirm that I would use it immediately if I had ANY problems with swelling, hives, or breathing, and that I would call 911 right after using it. Yes, ma'am, I will do that. 

By the time I had the followup with her a week later, the hives were gone, the swelling was gone, the itching was gone, and all I had left were a some teeny weeny little scabs from scratching the hives that were starting to fall off.  Now the plan is to add the antibiotics back one at a time and see what happens.  I am on the first one now.  So far, so good. I feel fine.  Just in case, the jeans are sealed in plastic: I'm going to return them.

So the past ten days, I've been sticking close to home, doing research (my other passion is genealogy), enjoying the sunshine, and trying to catch up on some of the things that I haven't done for far too long. And basically, just enjoying being alive.

Friday, February 27, 2015

What do you do when the temp is -18F (-28C) and the snow is deep?

Well, I sit at my spinning wheel.  For several weeks now the temp has been low enough that the only urge I have to go outside is to get more firewood so I can stay warm inside.  The days alternate between snowing some more, and being sunny but just dang cold.  I can't think of anything better than keeping a pot of soup on the stove, and spending my time spinning yarn, looking out the window at the sunlit, snowbound landscape.

Last fall I acquired about seven and a half ounces of what I think is either merino/angora or alpaca/angora blend from a neighbor who keeps angora goats.  Some of her goats have fibre that is angora quality, and this is what she used when she blended the roving.  Unspun, it is a lovely frosty fawn color.  Spun, the color retains its delicacy, but condenses into cafe au lait.  Very fine, very soft, almost slippery in feel, but it spins easily into a fine single. At first, I intended to make 2 ply, but as I spun, I decided I wanted to make 3 ply.  I decided to spin all of the roving and make 2 skeins. 

But I was frustrated, because I have always preferred to make 6 ounce skeins.  This was a challenge.  Although I have managed quite a few 6 ounce skeins if the yarn is compact enough, my bobbins are really meant to hold only 4 oz at most, less with a lofty yarn.  Those last two ounces were a challenge to do and maintain the quality of the plying.  (When you ply, you are taking all the the singles off two or more bobbins and putting them together on one bobbin, so space is an issue.)  Most of the time I limited the amount of singles I spun onto each bobbin. Like this (that is a photo of the merino blend, by the way):

At one point, a couple of years ago, I acquired a second-hand Louet wheel and refurbished it. Louets have larger bobbins, and my plan was to use it as a dedicated plying wheel.  My plan didn't work out for me.  While many people do well with Louets, the manner in which the Louet works is quite different than my main wheel (A Shacht Matchless), and I found the adjusting back and forth difficult, and made more difficult by the fact that the Louet I had acquired had only a single treadle.  It wanted to spin one direction, and that direction was not the direction I wanted to ply.  So the Louet got relegated to a corner and someday will find a new home.  In the meantime, I made do with smaller skeins.

I should have used the money to get a bulky flyer for my Matchless.  And I kicked myself because I didn't and then the price went up this February.  Dang.  So badly did I want to spin this yarn as a single skein that I went online and scouted around to see if anyone still had them at the old price.  I found one, at a tiny shop in Maine, run by a mom (Funky Eclectic).  My natural tendency to keep a tight rein on my skimpy budget was overridden by two things: my conviction that I truly needed that bulky flyer. I didn't really; I could live without it. Small skeins are fine. Sort of.  But it is really hard to convince a spinner she doesn't need something she has her heart set on. And then there was the charm of this little shop. So I ordered it (gulp).  It came in only a few days. It took a little fiddling and adjusting to install on my wheel, because it comes with a whole new mother of all and front maiden,  but here it is, all set to go: 

That is the large bobbin in place.  And the HUGE orifice (in comparison to the standard flyer).  And, oh, look, instead of stationary hooks, it has a sliding hook on each arm!  I thought they'd be hard to use, but they turned out to be easy, a quick push.  To compare, here is the old flyer: 

The new flyer with its big bobbin means I can ply up to 8 ounce skeins.  It also works with the smaller original bobbins, and though the new flyer is a little noisier than the old one, I found spinning on it goes even more smoothly (perhaps because the added weight evens out the momentum).  So I put the partially filled bobbins back on one by one, and finished spinning the rest of the merino blend. 

But another thing kept popping up.  Even when I was planning how I was going to spin this beautiful  roving, from the beginning a vision kept popping into my head: a thin red silk thread winding its way through the finished yarn.  I could not get this vision out of my head.  I thought perhaps I could find silk embroidery thread to use.  I did find a source, but it was so expensive, I dismissed the idea before I even started spinning. I couldn't justify the cost. But I couldn't dismiss the vision.  I could not, would not ply those singles without the fine red silk thread. 

I have never spun silk.  YouTube to the rescue.  I watched a few videos of people handspinning silk, and realized I could do it.  I couldn't find what I was looking for in the offerings of my usual vendors. So on to Etsy. I checked out the offerings and the vendors, and eventually found a vendor not too far from me and good ratings, a spinner herself.  She had for sale exactly what I wanted: 2 ounces of  undyed natural honey-colored Tussah silk top, more than enough.  The photo showed a smooth braid of good quality, at a good price.  Even better, since she was in Barbados for a week enjoying the (warm) sunshine, shipping would be delayed, so she was giving a 20% discount. 

I can wait a week. 

So, the wool singles are ready, waiting.  I'll wind them off so I can start work on something else.  When the silk gets here I'll tone-dye it with red dye (I just happen to have some....), and spin it into an ultra fine thread, which I will hold with one of the singles as I ply, so that it will wander through the plied yarn.  That's the idea, anyway.  I'll let you know how it turns out. 

In the meantime, the sun goes down on another nippy day, and there's a bit more snow.  My cottage is casting a long shadow.  The fire in the stove is keeping the house warm, and it is time to fix a cup of tea, and snuggle with small animals. 

Good-night, all.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Not completely idle all this time...

Appoaching Glacier Park, MT near sunset, May 2014
Remember that old saying from way back when?  This one:  "Life is what happens after you make other plans."  Well, that pretty much describes the last year or so.  My brother thoughtlessly had emergency brain surgery while I was waiting to be scheduled to have my gall bladder out.  If this were sibling rivalry, he wins, hands down.

I'm glad to say there's no rivalry involved, but it was unnerving to have to wait several months 3000 miles away while he went through the hole-in-the-head kind of surgery and had his brain remodeled, followed by the nifty sci-fi movie kind of laser surgery with a custom-fit medieval-torture-looking helmet, followed by radiation therapy on the tumors in his head and in his lung , followed by months and months of chemo-therapy.  Which will go on for life.  Life, of course, is the point. I really wanted to be there, getting in the way, demanding answers, making his wife nuts, and fussing over my little brother (who is a foot taller than I am, but ten years younger, so is still my baby brother).

The good news is he made it, has regained all his function, and is just as ornery as he ever was, which is a relief.  He's a good guy, and I like him a lot. Most of the time.  He's still a brat sometimes.  After a year and a half, the scans show no sign of tumor activity.  The treatments sort of ate up his energy, and he ended up retiring early.  So now he goes fishing, and gets on his wife's nerves.  And sits in the sun or under the apple tree with his dog and a cup of coffee and rejoices.  From that I get great joy.

When I recovered enough from my own surgery, I took the train out to visit. It was good to just hang out with him.  I got to visit with a cousin I haven't seen in a long time, too, and that was great.  Then I took the train to visit my aunt in the Oregon valley where I grew up.  I got there just in time for her 97th birthday!  I spent a week with her, visiting her everyday, and collecting more stories about her childhood growing up in the mountains of eastern Idaho and as a young woman working for the railroad in WW2.  She is alone now and I am her only known living relative, and she is the last living member of the generation before mine. Even though we aren't related by blood, but by marriage, she was my second mother when I was growing up, and still is.  I cherish her. She is nearing 98 this year, and I hope I can make it out to be with her.

Then I took the train back across the country and collapsed.  Which one would do, but in this case I mean it literally.  I had been feeling tired, and having spells of light-headedness, which I attributed to over-doing.  Then one day, I passed out and went down while talking to a friend at our village farmers' market.  I was trying to sit down, but did a faceplant instead.  Came to with my friend in a panic and trying to call an ambulance.  I can't believe I did this: I told her it was okay, and that I'd just drive myself to the doctor about half a mile away.  Which I did.  I tell you, I was not thinking clearly.

At the clinic, when I told them what happened, they took my vitals. My pulse was 32.  Well, that would do it.  So ensued an afternoon of tests. I got sent home with a list of things, all of which started "DO NOT....".  I spent the weekend thinking "heart disease".  On the Tuesday, my doctor called me to tell me I am hypothyroid.  I had no idea that hypothyroidism could do that to a person.  I am slender, but every cell in my body was struggling to do what it needed to do, including pump blood to my brain, and digest my food, and breathe, and think. No wonder I hadn't been thinking clearly.  She had called a prescription in to my pharmacy, who were going to mail it to me.  She told me to start it immediately.  She added emphatically, "You will have to take this for the rest of your life." 

I was just relieved that all it was going to take was some pills every day for the rest of my life to replace a hormone that my body had decided not to make anymore.  What is this, compared to emergency brain surgery and lifelong chemotherapy and the enormous courage shown by my brother and others like him? 

In the meantime, I'm still spinning.  More to come on that.