Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Beside the Coral Sea

Beside the Coral Sea

We enjoy spending time with the grandkids... sometimes we even make it to the ocean on a winter day in the Tropics.

An annoying but not very serious health problem interrupted my life for a spell and made it difficult to indulge in my normal routines. Things have improved. I've been able gradually to resume knitting, spinning and weaving. Making things with my hands works so well in promoting a personal sense of harmony as world news describes struggles and hardships associated with change.

On this beach beside the Coral Sea, the future grasps the hand of the past and gazes into the natural rhythm of change.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Great Bowerbird Bath

During the Dry Season, Jerry keeps the birdbath brimming full for the daily stream of bird visitors. As soon as the Wet Season gets underway, the rains tend to keep the birdbath topped up even as the numbers of bird visitors decline as they gain access to water in heaps more places.

This year the rains have been patchy – concentrated for a few days or a week, then followed by no rain for a spell. Thus it has become more important to make daily checks on the bird bath and refill as necessary.

A sleek and serious young male great bowerbird arrived for a bath. 
He couldn't believe how low the water was.

He settled for a sponge bath.

There's something refreshing about looking ridiculous.

What's ridiculous is letting the water get that low!

Post by M in JaM
Pix by J in JaM

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Color Development with Natural Brown Cotton

Two skeins of darkened Brown Pima cotton handspun yarn;
atop the skein on the right are a few strands of the original Brown Pima handspun

Starting with Easy To Spin Brown Pima cotton sliver, I produced my first two handspun skeins of naturally colored brown Pima cotton yarn to be used in weaving.

I have learned that, over time, naturally colored brown cotton gradually darkens when subjected to repeated washing with detergents and heating in a dryer, that is, when subjected to moisture, especially in a basic pH environment, and to heat. I decided to do some Color Development, as Sally Fox describes this process for intentionally darkening naturally coloured cotton.

Following one of her suggestions, I added 2T of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to a gallon of water and added those two skeins of handspun brown Pima cotton. As the pot came to a boil, I kept pushing the yarn beneath the surface of the water until it was completely saturated and stayed immersed. I boiled the pot for 30 minutes.

Not only did the brown color darken, but on drying, the yarn has lost some of its sheen and has a matt appearance. I like my transformed skeins of dark brown cotton. I find a growing interest in the history of colored cotton, as described by James M. Vreeland, Jr. in the linked article published in the Scientific American in 1999. Equally fascinating is the Sally Fox story: Innovation in the Field.

No matter how interesting it is to learn new things, nothing beats the pleasure of a simple head scratch.

Post by M in JaM
Pix by JaM

Monday, 25 March 2013

Pumps and Tensioned Lazy Kates

Re-installing pump in creek
Our creek is flowing, but has not reached flood level this Wet Season. Since there is less chance at this point of our pump being swept away in a flood, Jerry placed it back in the creek and has begun the slow process of refilling water tanks while the creek continues to flow.

I'm ready to make another 3 ply cotton yarn and want to describe my lazy kate set up for the process.

Ashford lazy kate modified to have three bobbins under tension
My Ashford lazy kate holds three bobbins in vertical alignment. When I got this lazy kate, it did not have a way to tension the bobbins. In those early days of learning to spin and ply with a wheel, sometimes in the plying process, I would pause, but the untensioned bobbins would continue to unwind into tangles – and that's not good.

Anchor points for bobbin tension lines
To create bobbin tension, I modified my lazy kate by adding two small nails at the front and back of the bottom of the stand. I fastened a rubber band to smooth cotton thread, hooked the rubber band on one of the little nails at the bottom of the lazy kate, ran it over the groove of the bobbin and fastened it to another little nail at the front of the lazy kate. Sometimes I add a knot to the rubber band to shorten it. Very little tension is required. These “tension accessories” are very easy to lose, but simple to replace.

Another modification had already been made to the lazy kate when I purchased it secondhand in the early '80s. Someone had weighted the lazy kate to prevent it from falling over when in use. They screwed a plate of scrap iron onto the base of the kate. Believe me, it does not fall over. However, if you look closely, you can see the screws aren't seated flush. So, the kate rocks. Someday I may replace those screws. In the meantime I add a folded paper wedge under one corner (seen in earlier photo) to subdue the rocking. My philosophy: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Or as we say in Australia: She'll be right, mate....

Post and photos by M in JaM

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wet Season mushroom amidst the green

We continue with below average rainfall, but there has been enough rain to prompt the appearance of a mushroom or two. The top of this one is 15 cm across (6 inches). Likewise, grass has been growing and mowing has commenced. 

We aren't the only ones running short of rainfall. All of New Zealand's North Island has been declared a drought zone.

I finally replaced the little electronic scale that died and now have been able to weigh and determine the count of my handspun and plied cotton skeins.

Handspun Pima cotton, natural colours
Handspun white cotton (on left):
Count: 7/3
3900 m/kg (2000 yd/lb)
Handspun and plied on Ashford Traditional spinning wheel
Planned use of yarn: pattern weft in a crackle weave table runner.

Handspun brown cotton (on right)
Count: 5/2
4400m/kg (2200yd/lb)
Handspun and plied on Ashford Traditional spinning wheel
Planned use: weaving project.

Close-up: white 3 ply and brown 2 ply handspun Pima cotton
I could darken the skein of brown cotton by boiling it (with a dash of dish detergent), but may keep this skein's colour unchanged for weaving, just remembering to expect 15%-20% shrinkage when the woven cloth gets washed.

My next three bobbins of brown cotton singles are almost ready to be plied and I may darken the resulting skein to increase my colour range.

Recent cold mornings (down to 12.9C or 55F) remind me that winter... and my weaving season... will be here before long. Now, back to the wheel to make more yarn!   

Friday, 8 March 2013

Summer Ends and Autumn Begins

Full Moon: 26 February 2013

I awoke in time to photograph February's full moon as it was setting. The month delivered a total of 100 mm rain (4 in) which is half the normal rainfall here. March 1st marked the beginning of autumn in Australia. We expect more hot days and hope for more rain. We do appreciate the cooler conditions associated with overcast or rainy days.

Skinks continue to slink onto the kitchen counter top to look for food scraps. Insects are more abundant since we've had rain, but the skinks find it is easier to consume scraps and tidbits of canned dogfood than to catch insects. The dog frowns on the skinks' lazy habits yet she obeys our commands to leave the skinks alone. I can't tolerate rodents, while I can't help liking skinks.

This week I spent a delightful overnight helping out with the twins. At one point they were rough-housing and leaping onto one another atop one of their beds. I stood beside the bed, saying, settle down, settle down, someone is going to get hurt.... when one twin paused, held up his arms and leapt on me. We fell back onto the other bed and I began laughing. I held him in a hug as I stood up and looked over in time to see the other twin launch himself at me. Now we all three fell back onto the other bed and lay there giggling and laughing. I instantly understood how much fun rough-housing can be. And no one got hurt....

It's always lovely to get home to Jerry again. I'm surprised by how slowly I recover, but I gather that slow recovery is simply part of aging. I'm lucky to get to enjoy the rambunctious charms of grandchildren as well as the quiet serenity of living with Jerry... and the dog and the skinks.

Skink porthole
Post by M in JaM
Photos by JaM

Monday, 25 February 2013

Plying Cotton

Some handspinners recommend that, when plying yarn, you set your lazy kate holding the bobbins filled with singles as far from your spinning wheel as possible. The resulting long run allows the twist in each single to become more evenly distributed.

Plying set-up for three bobbins:
from bobbins on lazy kate; through eyelet-guide; to wheel in foreground;
sorry about the unmade bed; housework has low priority.
I've been wanting to try this with my handspun cotton, but the long run from lazy kate to wheel worried me as I could imagine the two singles bumping into one another and getting tangled whenever I paused during the plying process. I also worried that the dog, Jerry or me would forget and walk into the path of those almost invisible threads strung across the room for a day or more as I can never seem to finish plying a batch of cotton in one day. Perhaps one day I'll develop calluses necessary for running all that yarn through my fingers in one session.

I decided the best solution to the dog and thoughtless walker worry was to move my spinning wheel and accessories upstairs where there is less traffic. The hot temperatures have eased during recent overcast days and that makes working upstairs possible.

Jerry solved my tangled yarns worry by handing me a strip of smooth wood that held a set of evenly spaced eyelet-screws. I clamped the wood strip to a chair placed midway between the lazy kate and the spinning wheel. I tested this plying set-up with two bobbins of cotton singles, threading each single yarn through an eyelet. The long run to the wheel made it easier for me to coax any remaining twisty areas into plying with surprisingly little effort. The singles did not tangle whenever I released my hold while sitting at the wheel. I feel so delighted with the resulting 2 ply cotton.

Having gained courage by this success, I set up next to ply from three bobbins. I am thrilled that things are going so well with this 3 ply cotton and hope to finish that plying work today.

Toy Creek, February 2013
Meanwhile, the water in the creek looks good though it is not exactly abundant. We usually get 200mm (8 inches) rain in February. We've had ~92mm (~3.7inches) this month which has only three more days until the end of the month. Today the sky is crystal clear. It may get too hot to work upstairs....

Cyclones and flooding are not unusual during the Wet Season in our region, but this year we've had neither... so far. Instead the floods and winds are showing up in southeastern Queensland and into New South Wales, with houses in Sydney losing roofs. Yes, we live in Interesting Times. I find comfort in focusing on areas I can control to some degree, like making things with my hands.

Post by M in JaM
Photos by J in JaM

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Wool and Cotton

Handspun 2ply wool; light fingering weight;
one single is handpainted "Strelitzia" from Kathy's Fibres
one single is Dreamee Wool in Grey from Bilby's Yarns. 

As a spinner, knitter and weaver, I love feeling that initial surge of creativity... then get oh so cranky when I find myself frustrated because all my spinning wheel bobbins are partway full of various unfinished spinning projects, all the knitting needles of a particular size that I need are holding unfinished knitting projects, or that all the weaving bobbins are partially filled with perfectly good (for something) yarn remnants from my last weaving project.

So it was that I got excited about the arrival of new coloured cotton to spin (a Christmas prezzie). I searched high and low, upstairs, downstairs and in the Shed for empty bobbins for my spinning wheel. I tracked them all down, only to acknowledge, that yes, all bobbins were in use – holding hibernating spinning projects. And I wasn't willing to wind off the yarn. After much fretting, I zeroed in on two bobbins, each containing a single of Strelitzia, a handpainted wool from Kathy's Fibres that I spun during Ravelry's Tour de Fleece 2012. I wanted to ply this yarn, but decided I'd make the handpainted singles go further by plying with a completely different yarn, which I would now have to spin.

I picked Grey Dreamee Wool (from BilbyYarns), a Melanian wool (natural colours) from West Australia. The beautifully prepared wool top is a pleasure to spin. The time slipped by effortlessly as the fibres flowed through my fingers. I let the finished singles rest on the bobbin for a couple of nights, then plyed with ease. As soon as I wash the skeins, I can count this spinning project complete... and a success!

Two kinds of naturally coloured cotton
The empty bobbins began calling for the cotton. Above, on the right, you can see "CafĂ©," a certified organic cotton from South America (available at Virginia Farm Woolworks) that I'm spinning on a support spindle. To the left, on a spinning wheel bobbin, you can see Easy To Spin Pima Brown cotton from Cotton Clouds. I so enjoy spinning these coloured cottons. 

The excitement of each beginning evolves into a soothing practice that includes transforming frustration into perseverance. I continue to learn about the satisfaction of finishing.

Post by M in JaM
Photos by J in JaM 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Picnic at Lake Eachem

Standing in the rain feels good after a very long Dry Season.
We planned a BBQ get-together at LakeEachem last month. As the day got closer, it began to look like much needed rain might arrive on that weekend, in fact, on that day. Feeling a little foolish, we headed out early and drove through rain for almost forty minutes until the sky cleared just before we reached the Lake where conditions were perfect. We secured a covered table near a BBQ. (Power to the BBQ is provided free of charge; press a button to start and it runs on a timer). We had a lovely day. The twins took their first swim in the Lake before the rain finally began to fall on us in mid-afternoon. The rain felt great. We packed up and returned home, relaxed and happy.

The rain continued for 3-4 more days. We got the average total rainfall for the month of January in those few days. We're so glad to see the end of the Fire Season. We're especially glad to see our creek running again. Lucky for us, we've experienced no local flooding and nor much erosion.

The same storm system, ex-cyclone Oswald, tracked slowly south, following Australia's eastern coastline but over land, for days. It brought devastation to some – homes destroyed by tornadoes or flood waters, helicopters rescued people from rooftops, several deaths occurred, 400 dairy cattle swept away, crops destroyed. A once in 100 year storm? Similar to the once in 100 year storm that hit some of the same communities two years ago?

Then hot and dry days returned.

I've felt depressed by my recent lack of blog posts. I reckon our delayed and sporadic Wet Season has something to do with my total lack of motivation... not caring about anything... other than morning chores that have to be done, then wait for each day to cool down and for melted brains to congeal before bedtime.

It's overcast today and cooler and writing begins to feel appealing....

Blue sky over road to town
Post by M in JaM
Pix by J in JaM