Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bella and 'Surrender' it's not a finished picture, but it's progress.  I think this one might end up being something that I work on digitally, using the tablet and Corel Painter. 

The idea of this is from the ruminations about the word 'surrender'...the idea of surrendering to the blank page, to the process of the work, not to work only with the finished product in mind.  Though I love having finished products (and producing them), having had the shop (Threads in Motion) for all those years helped to dissociate the joy of making things with the need to possess them.  To truly surrender to process, one must not need to possess the outcome. 

Culturally, here in North America, that's a pretty rebellious idea. 

It always amazes me that all the minuscule, incremental decisions and accidents that happen along the way are what ultimately add up to the final product, whatever it may be.  I had a drawing instructor 'way back in College (a College that's now a University...that's how long ago it was that I attended) who encouraged us to make every single line on our page one of intent.  He would not accept 'scribbles', and certainly not as an excuse for shading.  He was, however, the teacher who introduced me to the idea of the 'character of line': that the intentional mark on the page could have uncontrolled elements to it - thick and thin areas, slight meandering within the path, and lighter and darker points along the line.  This 'found' or 'accidental' element within the intent and decision making of drawing is really all about our surrender to the process of drawing...the cumulation of all those tiny decisions.  And ultimately, it's what gives a drawing it's dynamism, flow and personality.

 Speaking of surrender and of process...

(a little heavy-handed for a segue, but it will have to do! :) )

The fleece from last post's sheep is working up into wool of lovely character. 

The singles are about 12 WPI (wraps per inch).  I'm hoping to ply them together into an aran weight yarn.  The first project from this particular wool will be a beret for my neighbour's daughter, in black, as requested.  The ewe that this comes from is named 'Bella', making for a 'Bella Beret'! 

I've spun up 9 oz of the fleece so far, into about 208 M of yarn.  The soft undercoat of the fleece is a charcoal grey, the outer coat is a dense black.  They are coming together into a heathery black colour that is quite lovely.  I keep thinking that the icelandic wool would be beautiful knit up into this - especially in this gorgeous grey-black.

I've completely surrendered to the rhythm of spinning, the process of making yarn.  Each moment gives little chances at decision making for the final product, and opportunities for the yarn to dictate the way that things are going to go. 

As I spin, I can't help but think of the multitude of generations that had to rely on this fibre process, this hand-intensive process, for clothing and furnishings.  To completely outfit a family and home would be a huge undertaking, especially in a climate like this one.  That the health and welfare of the family would rely on the health of their animals is a foreign concept today.  The idea of the wealth of the family being expressed in the quality and quantity of their garments, and in the skill and speed of the family's clothiers...well, it is just not something that we think of in a first-world country where we are so dissociated from the origins of our possessions, the things that give us comfort and protect us from the elements.

Food for thought.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Dusty...but not

 All right.  So it's not actually a good response to the 'Dusty' challenge, but it was a challenge to do - and filled my quota for the number of drawings I need to get done in order to stay with my resolution! 

I think I did anthropomorphize this ewe,'s her wool that is soaking in the tub and on the drying rack right now.  That hint of a smile is probably a little projection of how I feel about playing with fibre, and how grateful I am to my neighbour and this sheep for the opportunity.

As I've been following the Sketchbook Challenge blog since the beginning of the year, I thought I'd include a progress photo.

Many of the people formally participating in that challenge not only share finished drawings, but much of the messy stuff that leads up to them.

When I know I'm going to be doing a 'finished' style drawing, I will do a bit of a line map before drawing in earnest.  If you click on the drawing at left you'll see some thin, spidery lines here and there that are my visual code to guide the light, shadow, proportion and different 'planes' of the drawing.  I tend to think of the object I'm drawing (even from photos) in all three dimensions...mapping out the planes helps me to keep foreshortening, light and shadow all in the right places. 

In the case of the sheep, it was also about dividing the space between the different textures - there is a substantial amount of space on the sheep's face that has straight hair.  Part of the challenge in this drawing was to create different textures between the different types of coat, the horns, and the eye area.  As you can see in the progress photo, I'll often jump straight to the details that I think best characterize the subject once the initial mapping is done.  If I can get the eye area (often the part of a drawing that we will focus on right away) right along with any other important characterization, the rest of the drawing really only needs to be hinted at in order to be successful.  The viewer's eye will SEE the parts that are tight, drawn to describe the subject, then their mind will FILL IN all the other details.  My favorite drawings are certainly audience participation in nature - and I believe these are also the ones that hold the widest appeal.

So now to go back and rinse out more of these lovely black locks, and to think about my challenge word for this coming week...'Surrender'. 

Happy Friday,


Chicken (and skating!)

Better late than never - right?  It's my contribution to Illustration Friday's challenge, 'chicken'.  The last couple of weeks have been silly busy with life and skating.  This is the first chance I've had to get myself across the street to photograph some chickens at our neighbour's house - so my challenge entry is two weeks late.  Does this still count for keeping my resolution to draw more?  I hope so.  

Now to do 'Dusty' (last week's challenge) and 'Surrender' (which was in my inbox this morning).

It's going to be tough to focus on the drawing today as my neighbour sent me home with another one of his fleeces - black this time - and I'm looking forward to knitting his daughter a beret with part of it!

Last weekend I was not drawing on Saturday morning because I was here: Nelson's first Speed Skating Comp. Our club hosted, and the day was fun and friendly.  We each skated 5 different races, the distances based on our age categories.  Both of our boys skated, too, and DH was an official timer.  It took all of the available parents, grandparents and friends of the club to make this happen - would the world still spin on its axis without volunteers to power it?
 The boys and I combed through the 200 or so photos that were taken of us all out on the ice to analyze for body position, weight distribution and technical form.  It was fun to go through them and enlightening to see, with a critical eye, what we are ACTUALLY doing on the ice vs. what we THINK we are doing on the ice.  For myself, I know that I need to get lower and not allow my upper body to move as much...

Now - off I go to rinse out the soaking fleece, then figure out what I'm going to draw for 'Dusty'.  Hmm.  I have some lovely pictures of sheep here, maybe I want to draw one of them??


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

If you're not a fibre freak, turn off your computer NOW

A little magic happened here for me yesterday.  After spinning up several 50M skeins, I tried my hand at plying.

Mmmmmmm.  Yummy.

I've read a lot about plying and there are many good technical articles out there about HOW to ply, but nothing about WHY one should ply.

What I discovered is that - at least with this yarn - the singles knit up a bit scratchy.  Plying the singles into a balanced 2ply yarn made it squishy and soft.  That was the magic...the transformation from scratchy to soft.
I downloaded an app about spinning for my's pretty cool, really. It's full of information and different calculators, twist, grist, etc.

I thought that my roughly 13 wpi (wraps per inch) singles would ply into a 6 wpi yarn that would be a worsted it turns out, it came out more of a chunky weight.

I was so entranced with the squishy softness of this yarn, that I started knitting a toque last night with it...and finished it this morning.  It's sitting blocking now, waiting to go to it's new home.

My neighbour spent some time with me yesterday, carding up rolags.  Much of the wool he carded is spun up into this toque...



Tuesday, January 11, 2011

another thing to do with fleece

One of the things I got up to last weekend with the fleece was making felted soaps.  It's really very easy and low tech...and the results are so worth it.

Why felt soap?
Gentle exfoliation.
Subtle, natural antibiotic properties of fleece.
Regular contact with wool ;)

There is a wonderful soapary (is that a word) up the Valley from us - Mountain Sky.  The greengrocer down the hill from us carries end cuts (or off cuts) of this lovely soap in a big bulk bin.  The pieces can all be different kinds, and non-standard sizes, but are always first-rate quality.  I had a bag of these in the cupboard that I used for my project.

It's very simple.
Have ready some rolags or combed fleece, a sushi mat (or washboard), some chunks of nylon stocking, a towel, soap and a drying rack.

Wrap the soap in fleece, making sure that all the corners are covered, and that there are no thin spots.

 Stretch the chunk of nylon stocking over the wrapped soap carefully, to not shift the fuzzy fibre coating.  Because I was doing several, I did each step to all the soaps, production style.

The picture at left is a bit decieving...the nylon stocking is only tied at one end.  It's twisted and tucked underneath at the other.  If you tie both ends of the stocking, you'll have to cut the stocking to get the soap out...and eventually your stocking pieces won't be big enough to do anymore soap!

Dribble a bit of dishsoap on the nylon-wrapped bundle, then dribble some hot water on it.  Start rubbing it in your can be pretty vigorous!  If it feels too dry at first, add more water until it's all frothy and foamy (you don't want it dripping wet).

Rub it on the sushi mat (or another ribbed surface) to speed along the felting process.  Make sure that you rub each edge, end and flat plane of the soap.  When it starts to feel like all the fleece has compressed evenly, you can slide it out of the stocking.

Keep rubbing it in your hands and on the sushi mat until the fibre is completely compressed and not loose around the soap anywhere.  Rinse it in the sink, roll it in the towel to blot out most of the water, then set it on the drying rack to dry. Et Voila!  Finished!

I made about 8 of them for gifts.  It's got me thinking about other things that I could felt. Hmmmm.


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Making good on my resolution

I'm trying to be a good girl and follow the Illustration Friday suggestions, but this week's topic (deja vu) just didn't catch my fancy.  I opted instead to try the Sketchbook Challenge's topic: 'Highly Prized'.

 So, rather than draw my family (which was my first thought) or my hands (which was my second thought)

I drew my skates.  

You can click on either picture for a larger version.



Saturday, January 08, 2011

Yes, yes. There's always room for one more craft...

 My kind neighbour has become my new enabler - he gave me the fleece of one of his Icelandic sheep.  He had three sheep at shearing time this year: one brown, one white, and one brown and white.  Given my choice, I asked for the brown and white fleece.

Man I love fibre.  Who doesn't, really?

I haven't done any spinning since I was a pre-teen.  Back then our family was given the use of a beautiful spinning wheel from one neighbour, and several raw fleeces from another.  I can remember washing wool in buckets in the greenhouse shed...picking crud and vegetable matter (VM) out of it, carding it with hand carders, and spinning it on the wheel.  I don't know how much I really did at the time, and have no wool left from then to show.  I remember the fella who gave us the fleeces when I was young asked me to knit him a scarf...and I think I crocheted him a hat. As an adult, I recognize his lovely social grace in accepting the hat rather than the requested scarf (wherever you are - thank you, Misha).

It's funny how pushing my hands into all this wonderful smelling wool brought so much of that back.  I remember sitting in the unfinished part of our basement (with radio plays from the 30s and 40s on my new 'ghetto blaster'), bits of frass and VM falling on my lap and the floor as I spun.  This is when I first learned about S-twist, Z-twist and plying.  Now, I can't help but wonder how my Mom knew so much about the process!  She is the one who showed me how to use the carding brushes, helped me learn to wash the wool without felting it, and set me up with the spinning wheel.  I have vague memories of her showing me how to use a drop spindle as well - a wooden, bottom/low whorl spindle. The spindle was frustrating, but the wheel was fascinating.

I washed this new fleece this week by filling buckets of uncomfortably hot water and submerging large handfuls of locks in it to soak.  Before the locks were put in, I put a little bit of dish soap in the water to help degrease the fleece a little.  Apparently lanolin melts at 107degrees, so I used as hot water as I could from the tap.  Each bucketful of locks was rinsed by the same method (sitting in a bucket of clear water), with as little agitation as possible.  I used the spin (SPIN ONLY) cycle on our front loading washer to get as much water out of the fleece as possible before setting it up on the rack to dry.  One spin is fine (on my machine it is 11 minutes), two begins to felt the fibres.  (Yes, I found that out the hard way!  Lucky for me the fibres are not so well on their way to felting as to be unusable for spinning.)

Because I'm not the most patient person on the planet when it comes out to new ideas, I elected to spin one spindle-full with unwashed wool (something spinners call 'spinning in the grease').
Some of the current web information about spinning is in favour of 'spinning in the grease' and some is in support of spinning with washed fibres. I love the smell of unwashed fleece and have concrete am not all that worried about having bits of VM and short fibres fall on the floor as I work.  I learned that there is a big difference between spinning 'in the grease', and with washed fleece in terms of feel.  The wool that I spun before washing is thicker and loftier.  I think that is due to the stickiness of the fibres (more stiff to draw), and the stickiness holding the wool together well enough that I didn't have to put quite as much twist in it.  For the technical types out there, that 1st skein has 42degree Z-twist, at approximately 10-13 wraps per inch (wpi), considered to be a heavy Aran weight.  It is quite slubby (thick and thin spots), due to my learning curve. I made about 40M/110g of yarn (single, not plied) in that first skein.  I washed it after spinning and skeining to set the twist.

As I have no proper hand carders any more, I bought a dog brush that matches the one from the cupboard to make a pair of ersatz-carding brushes.  In my spare time, I've been combing up diminutive little rolags.

The spindle I'm using is the one originally posted about here, modified by crazy-gluing two scratched CDs to the top of the whorl.  It's working surprisingly well!  At first I was spinning by predrafting each rolag and the 'draw and park' method shown here, but have since figured out how to keep the spindle spinning while I draw and am making much more even, thinner yarn.

The wool spun 'in the grease' and the wool spun from washed fibres ended up the same colour after the 1st skein was washed to set the twist.  I think I'll continue to spin from the washed fibres, just because I feel more control with the spinning process with the washed fleece.  The smell is not quite so sheep-y, and my hands won't be as soft, but the longer process before spinning makes for less seeds, dung and short fibres by the time I get to the spindle.

Washing ahead also seemed to make it easier to pick out the short, unspinnable fibres from the fleece.  Something I would do next time with a fleece is to take the time to spread it out and pick out as many of the really short fibres, burrs and dung bits as possible before washing.

I'm on my third skein now (each averages about 50M in length, and about 15wpi.
I knit a beret from the first 1.5 skeins off the spindle using a pattern designed to show off the loveliness of thick/thin 'designer' yarn.  It went together really quickly, and without incident my the slubby yarn.
Now to knit Todd a toque to say thank you.  Or maybe a scarf?

Happy Saturday,

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Resolution Bandwagon

Yes, this year I'm on it.  The resolution bandwagon.

I don't think I've ever had a formal 'New Year's Resolution'.  In fact, for years, I rather turned my nose up at the whole idea.  What a silly girl.  I used to think,"if there's something I want to change, I will change it' - and, for the most part, that has been true.  I quit smoking without premeditation, cold turkey(16 years ago this month!).  I went back to school, grew a business, sold a business, and made other major changes in my life, all without joining into the western-culture-resolution-thing.

This year I really had a feeling that the only thing that I really lack in my life is the time to do more drawing. Actual drawing. Pencil to paper, no net, no parachute. I know that nothing in my life happens unless it is scheduled in, I have decided to actually TAKE those Illustration Friday challenges that roll into my email inbox each week.

Surprise, surprise.  This week's challenge word was "Resolution". 

Now, I've taken IF challenges before, but never religiously.  I've read them each week for the past few years, and often had an idea sparked from the suggestion of the topic.  I've just not often made good on that idea and actually sat down to make something happen.

Today, I did.

I paid a lot of attention to the process:  all the little things that I did to procrastinate vs. the actual time spent drawing. (I'll give you three guesses which took longer....the procrastination part or the drawing).  It was good for me, as part of my goal setting for something that I enjoy and welcome in my life, to look at all the ways that I put it off - that I avoid that moment of commitment, of putting pencil on paper!  I know from all the schooling I've done over the past few years that the main things that need to be in  place to make a goal happen are to be able to visualize it completed, and to schedule a time in daily life to ensure that the goal is done and not forgotten. My goal is to do my drawings on Saturday mornings (scheduling - check), and my first drawing is a self portrait of me drawing myself doing my drawing (visualization - check).

Not the greatest scan of my drawing, but it's a start.  I realized after doing this that my last couple of self portraits have been my early morning hair, comfy sweater, just-got-out-of-bed-clothes.  I may have to consider (if self portraits are going to become a habit) waiting until later in the day to make the drawings happen!
Happy New Year to you, whatever your resolutions be.  May you hold to them all, and be a happier person for it.