Prehistoric Painters

Coffe cup - SpatteredHave you ever watched a video of pre-historic cave painters? The painter first pulverizes various ingredients, usually charcoal, and dark brown or ochre-coloured pigments. The artist then carefully sucks up the powdered pigments through a reed straw. He positions the straw near the rock wall and with dainty puffs, he sprays the coloured contents out onto the surface of the rock. This method can cover a large surface in a relatively short time. The reed straw helps to control the spray and enables the artist to make a wonderful background for outlining a hand print or filling in the interior of a prehistoric horse. It’s really lovely.

Did you know that a relatively frugal substitute for coffee can be created by using powdered milk, powdered unsweetened cocoa, Ovaltine or some other ‘milky’ drink, a tsp of sugar, and some water? It’s not bad, not at all. It’s much better if you heat the water up first, as the powdered ingredients will dissolve more readily and form a more consistent liquid. Still, it is possible to drink this in a pinch by just using cold water and stirring much more thoroughly.

Did you know that the relatively frugal coffee substitute if not stirred thoroughly, will leave a bit of the powdered cocoa on the surface of the liquid? Seemingly not much of a problem, as the action of drinking, one assumes, would eventually cause the cocoa to be absorbed into the liquid below. Did you know that when initially swallowed, that same loose cocoa may cause an unexpected cough reflex?

Have you ever watched the results of a cold-water, relatively frugal coffee substitute being rapidly expelled during a cough reflex?

I spent the morning cleaning the side of the wall, the kitchen-area window, the window screen, the stacked dishes in the sink and the unused coffee maker this morning.

What did you do today?

Tangled Yarns

Corriedale fingering wt 2Anyone else on the fabulous website ‘Ravelry’? While responding to a knitter who ran into problems with a skein-winder and horribly tangled wool, I decided I could use some of that answer to put into my poorly neglected blog here.

Since I had also suffered through a particularly upsetting detangling issue this week, I could readily understand the frustration of the spinner. The section below was my answer to her dilemma:

I use a niddynoddy to take wool off the bobbin. I won’t use anything else, now that I have become used to that. Still, even after I have washed a skein carefully and get ready to ball-wind it, that skein will sometimes tangle, esp if I pick the wrong end to start the ball. I keep reminding myself that I should mark the ends as I take them off the niddynoddy, but so far my memory does not hold anything as sensible as that for longer than it takes to think it, and forget it.
A split second, in other words.

Solution: When/if the yarn becomes tangled while partway into being wound as a ball – stop and carefully lay out the yarn. Stretch/snap works well, esp if you can slide your hands into the wool, and get it up around your wrists. Wear it for the next part of this, whenever possible, as an unusually dangly 2-wristed bangle.

Now, find the other end of the skein, and very carefully begin winding that up – while leaving the initial start of the skein still in the ballwinder. Sometimes you only need to do this a few yards, and the amt of wool that gets wound into the second ball is sometimes enough to free up the main body of the tangle.

Sometimes, as with my mess this week, you pretty much have to wind the second ball for a few yards, then go back to the ballwinder and wind that a few yards, then go back to the hand-wound 2nd ball, manuever it through the loops – CAREFULLY – and eventually the skein will end up as two balls – one on the ball winder, and one as a hand-wound ball. Not easy to have the patience for this, but it is do-able. Put on good music. Make sure you have your tea or coffee at the ready, and just plod through it. It will take over an hour – but it will eventually come to an end.

Once it is in 2 balls it is easy from that point on to finish winding the yarn onto the ball winder from the hand-wound ball. Not a fast method – but it works, and it won’t ruin your yarn. Since about 95% of my yarn is my own time-consuming hand-spun, I don’t relish losing even a few inches of it, due to scissor cuts or weakened sections.

Afterwards, you have every reason to reward yourself with whatever comes as a reward in your life. A mocha and chocolate chip muffin is an appropriate comfort item; and/or a well-earned walk with your favourite doggie, who will have waited with you while you growled and snarled at the skinny-legged monster on the table. Your dog will understand about monsters, and will cheer you on when you have defeated it.

Rare breeds; livestock and people

I have been fascinated most of my life with unusual crafts and the people who create them. This eventually led to my life-long love of spinning wool and hand-made knitted garments. It also led me into a project several years ago to illustrate some of the rare and disappearing breeds of farm animals.

After a few moves, and some disheartening transactions with an editor and marketing foul-ups, I eventually shelved the rare breeds project. I must have thought I would get back to picking up the pieces, because I kept most of the drawings and paintings in the back of a closet in an ancient brown folio from college-days. As I moved, so did most of the pieces, except for a few which were sold off, given away, or just torn up to use as craft bits.

With my son & daughter’s help, I am once again resurrecting some of these old drawings and paintings and getting them put into digital form. These are going up, slowly, over on the Fineartamerica site,

I see many other people are slowly turning to showcase some of their works on that site, although most seem to be photographs or purely digital art, with a smattering of sketches.

I would really love to do something with tents and tent cities, as so much of america seems to be losing the permanence of residence it once had, and some families are beginning to live almost nomadic lifestyles.

Autumn Drippings

I woke up at 4:00 am this morning, the rain racketing down upon the trailer’s roof with an intensity easily surpassing the energy of an alarm clock.

Awake, and no way was I going to be able to fall back asleep. This happens more often now, later in life than in years previous, and I have learned to just go with it. I clicked the heater on, two settings, for a low, but steady heat that would saturate the air and take the chill off in an hour or so.

I was up too early for Froskur  to want to join me – he did not want to move from the warmth of his blanket; he blinked his eyes, which he aimed more or less towards me loyally, but his paws shook and he lowered his head in supplication. No, he did not want to go out for a quick run, he wanted to stay right where he was and finish his doggie dreams.

Fair enough. I had a great treat to look forward to: a huge chocolate chunk muffin from the bakery section of our local grocery store, and very fresh Peruvian coffee beans.  I had even bought a carton of whole milk, so I wouldn’t have to cover up the flat taste of powdered milk with spoonsful of powdered cocoa – a mixture which actually isn’t that bad, but nothing is a real substitute for whole milk or cream.

Lily, my spinning wheel, had the start of a good bobbin of mystery wool from the day before. I pulled her out of her corner and set her up by my bench and unrolled a roving to get started.

Late this past summer I responded to a local freebie posting in a Ravelry forum, offering fleeces and bits of fleeces to first comers.  I was able to get a pale cream-coloured mystery fleece, unknown breed, unknown gender/age/location. Lovely long staples, a golden luster, somewhat coarse, but pleasant to the touch, and strong fibres. Also, very grimy and full of grain heads and straw.  It was free, after all. But I felt very lucky, and quite blessed to get this just as I was running out of wool to work with and suddenly looking ahead to facing an entire winter without fibre.

That same hot, summery day that I got the fleece, I unrolled it onto a sheet in the backyard and checked it over. I tugged off some sections and immediately bagged those into extra-large ziploc bags. I do not recommend ziploc bags as a first choice – they will cause the wool to sweat – but they do keep out wool moths and I am somewhat limited for storage selections at the moment. When I ran out of bags, I rolled the rest of the fleece up into the sheet, doubled it over, and shoved that down into a plastic bucket. Again – this is not ideal, but it is better than leaving it open for the bugs to play in.

Just before I finished bagging and rolling the fleece up, I waved my grandson to come over from where he sat outside on the outdoor patio swing. I wanted to show my grandson what fleece could look like as it was processed. I pointed out the absolute grimiest spot on the fleece, near the rump, which sported a few felted dags, several clusters of long yellow straw, and overall varied between a light brown and a muddy black void.  I tore off a chunk, took a plastic tub that I normally keep in my little kitchen sink, and disappeared off into the house. I scrubbed the wool without mercy, using liquid laundry soap and hot water. Horrible; no thought was given to soften the blow of hot water shock and agitation; no gesture was held back to prevent felting – I just scrubbed!

I brought the chunk back out to my grandson who was still lounging comfortably on the swing, talking with his mother (my daughter).

I spread the square of sparkling wool out onto a towel. It truly did sparkle – the crimp, still wet, flashed in the sunlight. Some of the nasty little weeds heads and dung bits glittered, blackly, against the white background, but it was truly remarkable how much it had changed.

After I drew my grandson’s attention to this, he nodded with polite interest at the now dazzlingly pale fleece. He seemed to register that I wanted more of a response, and offered a “Wow!” which I thought was satisfactory on his part. I can’t expect non-converts to revel in the beauties of fresh wool as enthusiastically as I do; some grace must be allowed, here.

I hand-combed that same chunk very shortly afterwards with almost no felting problems to deal with. I spun it up into a skein that my daughter and I dyed to a camouflage green, and I then made up into a Minecraft ‘Creeper’ softie for my grandson for a birthday present. This was well received and approved of by his friends who were visiting. Big points for me, there.

It is this same fleece which I am working on this morning. After trying several ways of working the wool, I have discarded any idea of combing and spinning the unwashed wool. Normally, the spinning of greasy wool is something that I enjoy. The raw wool slides more easily between ones’ fingers and makes it possible to get good consistency in the thickness of the singles.

However – this fleece was really, really greasy. I could almost clench a hank of wool in my hand and squirt out streams of the lanolin-rich substance. It left a glistening, snail-trail like substance all over my hands and the long-toothed dog comb that I use, velcroing the wooden handle to my palms. It was horrible.

I have settled instead for tearing off 12-inch squares, approx, and working with those, one at a time, in well-spaced batches. Soaking the square in a small tub in very hot water, lift, squeeze gently, resoak, lift, squeeze gently, resoak … until the water runs clear, and then spreading that out till dry, which takes a few days, actually.

I was worried that hand-combing the wool this way might be very hard on my ligaments. I find that the wool always felts at least a small bit after a soak, even store-bought, pre-washed wool, no matter how gentle, ends up with just enough of a felting issue that it can be painful on the tendons in my hands to work with.

However, this worked out quite well, and it was the spinning of this wool, cleaned in this way and draughted into rovings earlier yesterday, that accompanied my coffee this morning.

Wool Spinning: Naming the Wheel

I love furry, woolly things.  I love twiddling pencils, bits of grass, or loose bits of string between my fingers. A nervous habit, I suppose, started very early in life and now well-entrenched in my manners, it lends itself well for working with fibres.

Way back in my past, a young neighbour woman, upon very short acquaintance, but having a very generous outlook, once loaned me the use of her spinning wheel – an Ashford traditional-styled wheel .  This woman who started me on the road to fibre love deserves more than just a fond remembrance; but unfortunately she had just sold her house as we were moving in. She moved away a few weeks afterwards and I did not record her name anywhere. Where ever you are, mystery friend of unknown moniker, may you be blessed with kind and generous neighbours, also.

Now, she was the one to turn me from restless thumb-fiddling and direct me into the techniques of spinning. She demonstrated how a large wheel drives the flyer, and the wool went in one end, twisted very quickly as it ran through an orifice and ended up wrapped upon a bobbin.  The spinner-person was supposed to keep the large center wheel moving by treadling at a steady pace.

Easy to do, while this kind neighbour was with me. With her working the treadling and pointing out what I should do, I handled the wool rovings and watched the lumpy mass wrap more or less as it should, upon the bobbins.

Not so easy, once she had returned to her house, and I was on my own with the now strangely silent wheel.  No more kind instructress; just a sullen, glowering tangle of wood spokes, communicating nothing but stubborness.

I don’t know if that was the first time I grew angry with an impersonal object. It has been the most memorable, though. As my children watched, I stomped and fumed. I did this in a quiet manner, of course, as is proper with most beasts.  But, I directed this towards the Ashford wheel.  This was illogical behaviour, and I recognized it as such, but I could not seem to change that.

My problem was that I could not get the wool to go more than a few inches without snapping off.  I seemed to be doing everything correctly, but try and try again, the wool would bunch up and snap just inside that tiny orifice.  I had to get out the long, thin wire that was used to pull the wool back through the opening and start all over. Very irritating!

It looked, as the wool squirmed and twisted, popped in and out, as if the wheel herself was deliberately sucking in the wool and snapping it off, and then sticking her tongue of wool out at me.  Mocking me.

It was enraging.  The wheel would not cooperate. Now, I knew then, and I know now, that this wheel was ‘only a tool.’ Yes, that is the sensible outlook,  but the emotional sensations were otherwise. This felt highly personal; deliberately planned by a working entity, and tailored to the situation at hand.

I put the Ashford in a corner, and turned her face to the wall. I mostly ignored her for 3 days, just walking by, dropping comments at her.

For a few minutes a day, only, I would then pull her to a chair, and try again.

Whether the ‘time-outs’ helped her to be more cooperative, or that the patient, daily practice finally allowed my hands and feet to get together on this, at the end of the 4th day, the wool finally started to twist properly and pull through the orifice without snapping. Still horribly lumpy, the wool was nevertheless a genuine, hand-spun reality.

It was very shortly after this that I purchased my lifelong companion; an S75 Louet wheel, who is with me, still:  Lily.

I returned the Ashford to her owner, with many thanks, explaining how we had a struggle at first, but were now on good terms. It made perfect sense to her owner.

That experience sunk into my thoughts and opened a few doors down in those dusty vaults of unused brain space. It has allowed me to feel with great understanding why warriors named their sword, captains named their boats, and women name our spinning wheels.

Beasts at Home

Chihuahua from 1915

Chihuahua from 1915 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Starting with the beasts closest at hand is the chihuahua. More specifically, the chihuahua cross. Mine is a short-haired male, red coat with white & black points. He has a Pomeranian dam and chihuahua sire.  He looks very much like an extra–sturdy, king-sized chihuahua, running about 12 lbs. and has the large chest and neck muscles of the Pomeranian.  Loads of attitude, and the most loyal dog I have ever owned.

Pomeranian (Miniature) from 1915

Pomeranian (Miniature) from 1915 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All Manners of Beasts

Just a starting blog to take a look at the world, and that which is beastly within.

Scaled, furred, woolled and hairless, they all have some fascinating qualities to them. Historical, mythical and fantastical, I want to know them all, if only at a distance.