Friday, November 11, 2011

Things to do in the dark

Being without power for extended periods of time means finding things you can do in poor light.  I can spin pretty well in the dark, and I don't usually have to look too hard at my knitting if it isn't something too complicated.  Unfortunately the knitting project I was working on when the power went out was these:

Not really something I could work on in the dark!  I managed to finish them the day after the power came back on.
I really needed something completely mindless, so I decided to knit swatches! I had two full-sized skeins and two samples in different colorways.  I decided a while ago that I wanted to post photos of knitted sample in my Fiberarts Etsy, because there's so often such a big difference in what a multicolored yarn looks like in the skein and how it knits up.  How many times have you had a multicolored yarn that you loved in the skein, but that you really just didn't like in the knitted object?  

The same thing happens in reverse all the time - you see some knitting with colors that you love, then see the yarn it was knitted with, and think "I would never have pictured this yarn coming out like that!"

Spinners experience this all the time.  See how bright and almost garish the different colors look in the unspun wool?  The colors become much less intense in the finished yarn because of the the blending that occurs during spinning.  Because of this blending, it can be hard to see from the yarn that it will create subtle stripes when it's knitted up.

The striping is more prominent in the first example because I used colors with strong contrast. In this second example the colors are much more closely related, both in hue and value.  Here, you don't get strong stripes so much as a subtle shading.

Of course, the final effect will always depend on the size of your knitting.  Smaller projects like socks will end up with much wider and more prominent stripes.  Sweaters and shawls will have narrower stripes - sometimes maybe only one row before the color changes enough to be noticeable!  Still, it's always nice to at least have a ballpark idea of what a yarn is going to do before you plan your project.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Well. That was unexpected.

An unusually early winter storm with a greater potential for power outages due to the number of trees with leaves still on them at this time of year.  OK - that makes sense.  Not once did a report anywhere indicate MASSIVE damage to trees and EXTENSIVE power outages!  We really were not prepared for this one.  Irene was just practice.

These photos are nothing.  Many of the trees I passed were much worse - every single "section" of branches snapped off at the top of the trunk, like you'd do with a bunch of broccoli.  The damage to trees from this storm was much more extensive than Irene, and the accompanying damage to power lines was also worse.  We lost power for five days after Irene.  This storm had us out for a week!  It was a very chilly week.

Ways this storm was worse:  Because I hadn't expected a power outage that lasted this long I had not planned my grocery shopping accordingly, and ended up with more spoiled food that I could not get to in time.  Also, the convenient neighbor with the generator who helped us out after Irene has moved, so I couldn't keep my freezer chest going.  I still have hope for the freezer chest - it was packed pretty full, and more than halfway through the week all the important things were still frozen solid.  If I open it up today and still find the normal crop of ice crystals on the sides, I think I'll be good.  Number one difference between this storm & Irene - temperature!  It's obviously much colder outside in October than in August.  I have gas heat, but the furnace has an electric pilot!

Ways I was lucky: None of the trees on or near our lot suffered extensive damage. We may not have had the furnace running, but the house never dropped below 60, even at night.  I suppose it's the advantage of a very small house.  A few extra blankets & sweatshirts, two pairs of handknit wool socks, and living in my winter hat all day - 63 degrees was actually not that uncomfortable by the time we got to the end of the week.  The human body will acclimate! We knew from Irene that we do not lose water, and our water heater does *not* have an electric pilot, so we continued to have running water and hot baths and showers.  We also have a gas stove, and although I could not use the oven, cooking meals and making coffee was not a problem.

The biggest way we were lucky:
Having had five days of practice just two months ago, Scarlett adapted to the "new normal" very quickly!  It took three days after Irene for her to stop asking for "TV on?"  This time it took one.  We got her a brand new package of markers, and she was pretty happy for most of the week.  We even got her to wear a hat for about a minute!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Back to More Important Things!

Now that I'm done whining about having to replace my computer I can get back to the fun stuff!   I was very, very lucky recently.  A good friend decided to "invest" in my business(es) and gave me enough money to really start to get some things off the ground.  I'll be able to start a wholesale account with a fiber supplier, so that I can buy my wool at wholesale prices, which will give me a broader selection and a slightly higher profit margin.  After waiting forever for Etsy to come through with the promised ability to manage more than one shop from the same account, I finally just went ahead and started a second Etsy account to sell the yarn and spinning fiber in.  I'm not putting the link out there yet because the shop is still empty.  Writing up Etsy listings is more like writing ad copy than a classified, and that's never come easily to me, so the listings are going through lots of revisions before I make them public.  I'm hoping to have the new shop up and running by Thanksgiving!

Here's what I've been working on:

 I'm starting to work on colorways outside of single color families - these are some of my more successful attempts. 
 I'm also working on increasing my spinning speed.  I expect the dyed fiber to be a bigger percentage of sales, but since much of what I spin ends up sitting around waiting for a project, it may as well be available for purchase while it's waiting!

These first two colorways came out beautifully the first time!  I love it when things work right!

This last skein is just for me :)  It'll go nicely with this yarn.  Right now I'm thinking of hats and leg warmers, because this yarn is too "soft" for socks.  It would pill terribly, and I'd probably get holes faster than I'd like.
Not terribly fashionable perhaps, but I'm planning on wearing them under skirts with the actual aim of keeping my legs warm! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The New Toy

I had to get a new computer at the beginning of the month.  I was not happy about this.  Not happy at all.  It took way too long to figure out that I did, in fact, need to replace the computer, and now it's taken another two or three weeks to get things almost back to where I want them.

One evening around mid-September my computer simple refused to power on.  That's it - no Blue Screen of Death - no warning, just *Poof!*  It then took a further two weeks to fix the situation: determine that it was not a simple fix (it had "motherboard issues") and that the flat rate the repair place quoted me initially could not be used because my computer was too old (!), that they would end up charging me more to fix this one than it would cost me to get a newer, faster one, and then to get the computer that I could afford because it was on sale shipped to the store and have all my data transferred from the old hard drives to the new computer.  Somewhere in all this, I lost nearly a year's worth of old emails, which I'm also not happy about.

I've now had to switch from Windows XP to Windows 7, which everything seems to hate.  I'm only now getting to the point where the applications I use most frequently are installed and functional.  Several of them needed to be upgraded to Win7 compatible versions, and at least one still hasn't worked all the bugs out.  There are some annoyances that apparently are just inherent to Win7, such as its inability to retain a monitor calibration setting after the screen has greyed out or gone to sleep.  There's a workaround for that (I have to manually run the "load calibration" app when this happens), but it's a PITA to have to remember to do this every time I'm going to be working with Photoshop.

On the plus side, I've now got a much bigger hard drive, and the CPU is a little faster, which means things don't heat up as quickly, and the fan doesn't start going into overdrive fifteen minutes after I start working.  As a result, this computer is much quieter.

Now that I'm finally done ranting about this major inconvenience/disruption in my life, I can get back to talking about important things, like yarn and food. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A different kind of dyeing experiment

Having spent the bulk of the summer working on painted roving, I decided to try a different method for achieving Color in Yarn.  Painted rovings are fun to spin, and they can be a lot of fun to knit with, but solids are nice as well.  Plus, I have a lot of raw fleece that I can't process into roving at home, and I need to find something to do with it.

Rather than mix my chosen color and then dye the wool, I decided to dye the wool in the individual base colors I use, then blend them together in the proportions called for in that color formula.  Say I started with 100g of fiber - if my "recipe" was 68% color A, 20% color B, and 12% color C, I'd use 68g of wool dyed in A, 20g in B and 12 in C, and blend the individual colors.  This process takes advantage of optical blending, in much the same way pointillism does.  It creates the appearance of a solid color, but with greater depth and interest, especially when seen from up close.

Here's what I did.  I weighed out the fiber for individual colors into gallon zipper freezer bags (labelled, so I would know what color went in which bag), added a solution of water and Synthropol (a surfactant to ensure the fiber wets out evenly), and let the wool sit for a couple of hours.  Then one bag at a time, I carefully removed the wool and added the appropriate  amount of dye & other chemical assists, then returned the wool to the bag.  I found it important to remove the wool before adding the dye, otherwise most of the color would end up in one spot on the wool, rather than evenly dispersed.

I then put the plastic bags full of wool/dye in a large stockpot with a rack at the bottom, and filled the stockpot with water.  I slowly heated up the water bath, monitoring the temperature with one of those nifty probe thermometers that provides a constant readout, and kept it at about 180F for about two hours, then left the bags to cool to room temperature in the water bath.

When they had cooled, I rinsed the wool and hung it to dry, then blended the separate colors on my drum carder.

It spins up into a wonderfully lofty DK/Worsted weight 2ply!  I'm very pleased with the results!  One of the things I like about this process is that it allows me to turn what would normally be a flaw into a "design element."  This particular fleece is fairly fine, and despite my best handling is prone to neps.  These little clumps of fiber are generally considered undesirable in an undyed or solid colored yarn, but when the colors are dyed before being blended, the neps make nice little flecks of color in the finished yarn that I find I rather like!

My next question in this process:  Do I card the wool before or after the dyebath?  If I dye before, the fiber gets a little compacted by the process, and I need one or two more passes through the carder than I would otherwise.  On the other hand, if I dye after, I still need to do almost as much carding, but would no longer have the choice between very thorough blending (as in the example here) or a streakier, less uniform batt.  If I wanted that effect I would have to card all the colors separately anyway, so would it really save that much time?  I'll work on that idea on my next round!

Monday, September 5, 2011

What I did with my lawn furniture

I know it's a week late - this is what I did with my lawn furniture before Irene.  I didn't have anywhere else to put the chairs, and I wanted to weight the trampoline down with more than the four cinderblocks that sit on its legs.  It seems to have worked - nothing went sailing!

The wind was pretty impressive, but we really didn't get as much rain as we'd thought we would.  No water in the basement! Yay!  We did lose power for three days, and I consider us lucky to have gotten it back that soon.  There are still people without power in some parts of my town!  Scarlett's first hour with no power was rough, but she got used to the "new normal" pretty quickly.  In fact, I think her father had a tougher time with it than she did!

We have city water and gas for cooking & heat, so we still had a working stove and hot & cold running water.  Were were lucky - our next-door neighbor brought in a small generator that Monday, and offered to let us hook up our freezer!  I think I maybe lost a few Popsicles in the upstairs freezer.

After seeing the devastation all up and down the coast, I really appreciate how lucky we were to have gotten off so lightly!  There are so many places that still look like this-

Friday, August 26, 2011

Emergency Lighting: Making an Olive Oil Lamp

While you can't rightly say that hurricanes are predictable, these days we usually get some warning that one is approaching.  For people in hurricane prone areas this is the signal to start prepping, and because this is a common occurrence, they probably make a habit of staying stocked up on certain non-perishables or property-protecting "stuff" like plywood and extra duct tape.

That's not me.  I live in CT for Pete's sake - how often do we get really threatening hurricanes up here?  And this one has the temerity to make itself known at the end of the month, when I have no money left.  Hence my need to figure out what I can do with what I have.

We're more likely to be dealing with extended power outage than any of the other myriad disaster-related issues- even if we do get flooding there won't be much we can do about it besides making sure there's nothing important on the cellar floor, and that the sump-pump is plugged in. 

We're currently set with everyone's meds, and we have a cell phone and a portable DVD player (critical for getting Scarlett to go to sleep).  Our stove is gas, and our water isn't dependent on electricity either, so our biggest problem will be light.  We have a couple of candles and a cheap flashlight, but nothing that would provide continuous light for days (worst case scenario).  Fortunately that's one thing I can jury-rig with what I have on-hand!

Enter the Makeshift Olive Oil Lamp.  These are really useful in emergencies because not only do they use a fuel you're likely to have on-hand, but because olive oil is not as flammable as classic lamp oil, if the lamp gets knocked over the oil will extinguish the flame rather than starting a fire.  This quality especially is important in a house with jumping children and cats!  If you're not someone who regularly illuminates with fire, I think it's an important safety margin.

I'd seen these lamps online (Lehman's carries a line of them), and had a good idea of what I needed: a heat-resistant glass container, some fairly stiff wire, 100% cotton string for the wick, and olive oil.  For my experimental model I used a small custard cup.  If we need more, I'll use canning jars- they are heat resistant and I have plenty of them.  With an olive oil lamp you want to have the top of the wick close to the surface of the oil, which shouldn't be more than 3/4" or so deep, even in a much larger jar.
I took some brass wire I had on hand and a pair of round-nosed pliers, cut off maybe 6-8 inches of wire, and made a little corkscrew about .5" long in one end to hold the wick.
 I then bent the rest of the wire at a right-angle to the corkscrew and curved it into a large, loose spiral.  This wick holder will sit at the bottom of the "lamp."  If I'd used a jar, I would've used a longer piece of wire and made a "handle" by bending it in another right angle to the loose spiral, so that both the corkscrew and the "handle" point straight up when the loose spiral is sitting flat.  This will allow you to lift the wick holder out of the jar so you can light it.

The last piece was the wick.  I had some 100% cotton rug warp left from a weaving project, but I knew it would be too thin as it was.  I took a length about 16" long and twisted it with one hand until it started to kink up.  I then carefully folded this in half (a helper might reduce frustration by keeping the string taut while you do this), then repeated this process once more.
My string was now 1/4 as long, and 4x thicker - perfect!  If you don't happen to have cotton rug warp on hand, you could substitute cotton kitchen string, unwaxed candle wicking, or a length of cotton shoelace (if you're not sure what your shoelaces are made of, do a burn test first).  In fact, any of these would have been preferable, and I would have used one of them if I'd had any - these items are all thicker, and the twisting & folding might not have been necessary.

I threaded the wick through the corkscrew, leaving about 1/8 inch exposed at the top, and the tail loose.
This whole assembly is set in the bottom of your container.  Add olive oil to about the first coil at the top of the wick holder, and you're good to go!

So here's my finished oil lamp!  The flame from this wick is about what you'd get from a candle, and if I fill the oil to the first coil on the corkscrew, it will burn for several hours before it needs to be refilled.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

And some more handspun yarn!

I've been spinning up my color tests at the farmer's market.  I can usually get about two 2oz rovings spun and plied in one 4-hr farmer's market.  I finally got around to taking pictures of the finished yarn.  Some I'm happy with, some need to be tweaked a bit.

This was my first shot at purple which turned out to be more of a blue-violet.  Still very nice, so I'll probably use this colorway again.

This is my second shot at purple, which is more what I was going for the first time.  This is another that I'm happy with.

 I also finally took photos of the finished yarn from the green roving I posted here.  It still reminds me of Brobee!

This last I'm still not happy with.  It's supposed to be orange, but the dark orange ended up being too brown.  There's too much contrast in the finished yarn for what I want. 

Aside from this last, I'm gotten most of my primary & secondary monochromes about where I want them - now I need to work on some multicolor rovings.  What I really need is a few undisturbed hours with a lot of light, eyedroppers, paintbrushes, my jars of dye, and some sheets of paper! I guess I won't be working on those until September when Scarlett goes back to school.  Oh well - at least it'll be cooler by then!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fermented pickles, one jar at a time.

My constant efforts to learn from prior years' mistakes is finally starting to pay off, if only in a small way.  This year I planted my cucumbers early enough that they did not succumb to Powdery Mildew before I'd gotten more than five or six of them!  Last year I tried them as a succession crop after my peas.  I had enough deformed cukes to turn into a few pints of relish, but that was about it :(  The year before that I'd gotten them in early enough that the individual plants produced well, but since it was my first year with the garden, I'd gone small (only four plants), and didn't have enough for preserving.

This year I'm still not quite where I want to be (I don't think), but it's definitely an improvement!  I've got maybe 28 plants, and at the moment I'm averaging 2-4 pickle-sized cucumbers a day.  This is still well off of the several pounds that most recipes call for, but since I've been getting this yield for about two weeks now, it's still an improvement!  I may not be able to put up pickles to last us the year, but I'll certainly be able to provide us with enough for the summer.   

I know I could've gone with classic refrigerator pickles, but I've been wanting to try fermented pickles, and since they also lend themselves well to very small batches, I went with those.  I adapted Sally Fallon's recipe from Nourishing Traditions.  As far as I can tell, the main difference between her technique and the classic fermented pickle technique is that she adds a few tablespoons of whey to the saltwater brine as a kick-starter, and to ensure that the right kind of bacteria gets a foothold before anything nasty has a chance to set in.
  • As many cucumbers as will fit in a quart mason jar (sliced, spears, or whole)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2T yellow mustard seed
  • 1 head of dill seeds or rough equivalent
  • 2c water + 2t salt 
  • 4T whey
Pack everything into the jar.  If you think it will stay in layers then go ahead and add ingredients in layers - I find everything settles to the bottom anyway, so I don't bother.  Add whey, then salt water, leaving about 1 inch of room at the top of the bottle.  Cap tightly, and leave at room temperature for two to three days, or until you like the flavor.  Loosen the cap once or twice a day to "burp" the jar, or you may end up with a mess of broken glass!  When it's where you want it, put it in the fridge.

So far I've had really good luck!  Mine have been ready to go into the fridge in about two days, because it's been so hot.  It really is important to let the excess gas out periodically, because even if your jars don't explode, you end up with carbonated pickles - and that's just weird.  Also, expect the brine to start getting cloudy after the first day.  With vinegar pickles cloudy brine is a sign of spoilage, but with fermented pickles it's normal.  It's interesting to watch the progression!  The first day they're still bright cucumber green.  The second day the color starts to change.  By the time they're done they're pickle-colored!  The jar on the left has just been started - the jar on the right is about to go into the fridge.  I'm happy eating the spears right out of the jar, but my son only likes them on sandwiches.  Give them a shot and let me know how they turn out!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Not how I wanted to spend my day!

 This is not what my kitchen normally looks like - really, it's not!

 This is not what my living room normally looks like either.

 I mean, I'm the first to admit that housekeeping is not generally my highest priority....

 but I'm not usually this bad!

Here's the culprit.  I'd told our maintenance department that the door seal on my fridge was torn, could they please come repair it.  They decided to replace the fridge instead.  Right then!  On zero notice we suddenly had to hustle most of the furniture in the kitchen into the living room so that they could get the new fridge in.  The kitchen is one of the places we put things that Scarlett isn't allowed to have, so the density of "stuff" in there is pretty high.

On the plus side, the new fridge seems to be slightly larger than the old one!  This is good.  The old one was so short that you couldn't fit a two-liter bottle on the tallest shelf.  I may have enough room to try that "Keep a Week's Worth of Bread Dough in the Fridge" thing!

Friday, June 24, 2011

What's going on in the garden

Some of the raspberries are finally starting to come ripe - although I'll be lucky if I get to them before the critters do!

I have a guest on my sage

Some of my broccoli is ready to eat.  Unfortunately one plant doesn't give enough for a whole meal.  I guess I'll just have to eat this all by myself.  Darn!

And finally, I am starting to see tomatoes!

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