Monday, April 24, 2017

Fascinating Reading

Just a quick post to share some interesting links I've found recently. First we had Earth Day and now it's Fashion Revolution Week so there's been a lot of discussion around fair trade, sustainable production, slow fashion and garment worker's rights. Plus there's also the body positivity movements, resistance to the fashion and beauty industries' false promises, visible mending and much more. Have at it!

What makes a garment Slow Fashion? - on Karen Templer's excellent Fringe Association blog.

The Fashion Transparency Index - rating the big companies on how much information they share about suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, and social and environmental impact.

Flaws - an uplifting rant from Sally of Already Pretty. I want this printed on a T-shirt.

Tom of Holland - and his Visible Mending initiative has pretty much changed the way I think about repairs in general and the ability to keep favourite textiles going long after they would ordinarily be consigned to the ragbag.

A Field Guide to Needlework - Sarah Swett: tapestry weaver, backstrap weaver, spinner, artist, musician and another amazing practitioner of visible mending.

Don't forget to give these sites a wee wander about if they're new to you. There's a lot of great content.

In more personal news, I actually got a little spinning in today:

At the rate I'm working it's going to take ages to spin enough of this Coopworth into 1400 yards of 3-ply worsted weight for Thom's next sweater. Oh well. Slow, right?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

How I Spent Earth Day

With my hands in the earth! I picked the first asparagus and rhubarb of the year plus some more kale buds:

And carried on planting my greens (and reds) from yesterday - which btw was a gorgeous sunny day for once:

All the mustards, lettuce, kale and cabbages are in now. I had lots of seedlings so this bed is a bit closely spaced but we can always eat anybody who encroaches too much. I garden my Asian greens a little differently from most because I rarely harvest the whole plant. I only pick the tender side leaves until they start to bolt and then I pick the flower shoots, usually before the flowers open but those are good too. They usually keep going for me until sometime in July or even August if I'm lucky. And the picked greens stay good in the fridge for ages. I hope to get a lot of salads and stir fries out of this lot! Yum.

And speaking of yummy flowers I seem to have a lot of violets taking over my pathways:

This variety is Viola riviniana Purpurea Group, aka purple-leaved common dog violet, often mistakenly marketed at nurseries as the rather more rare Viola labradorica, which is native to Eastern Canada as its name might suggest. Instead this species, V. riviniana is native to Europe and is perfectly happy to grow in my hardiness zone 8 garden...and anywhere else it likes! I originally got a few plants from my mother-in-law who warned me that it's invasive. I don't mind. I can just pull out any offenders easily.

And they, like all violets, are quite tasty - a little crunchy with a sweet finish. You can eat the leaves too but I like the flowers better. I'm rather notorious for eating flowers! Other faves are borage (cucumber-ish), bee balm (citrusy), nasturtium (peppery), chives (mildly oniony), and basil (spicy). You can also eat squash blossoms, scarlet runner bean flowers, calendula (pot marigold) petals, and lavender flowers. Sadly nasturtiums and calendulas get really bad black aphid infestations in my garden so I've stopped trying to grow them anymore. I'll have to bug my MIL for some more bee balm too because mine didn't make it through our icy winter but she has plenty still. I think hers are in a more protected spot.

So now I've planted out nearly half of my seedling trays. It's a good thing it started to rain while we were eating lunch! I have a legitimate excuse (besides the head cold that I'm still fighting) to quit for the moment. Besides, the dye garden plants will happily grow in their pots in the greenhouse for awhile longer and the tomatoes are still under the lights in the grow-op until they get too tall to fit. I've finally planted my squashes and cucumbers in there too. Hopefully the weather will warm up sufficiently by the end of May for them to go into their beds. Another couple of weeks from now and I can plant the beans directly. Things are finally starting to feel more normal in the garden after all the crap weather we've had. Although I suppose I shouldn't say anything, should I?

I'm happy that I have my own space to grow a few things. It's obviously not large enough to supply all our needs but at least it supplements the grocery store. Plus the produce is fresher and what I call "nearly-organic". Not all my seed is certified organic and I sometimes use a tiny amount of chemical fertilizer in the grow-op because the other alternative is fish emulsion. Even deodorised, it's just a little too stinky indoors! Once they're outside they get the fish, compost, manure and sea soil. So things are not quite totally organic but very close.

As that famous quote from Arthur Ashe, the African-American tennis player, says:

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

It works for a lot more than just sports, doesn't it?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Resistance Was Futile

I couldn't help myself! I started the Sunny James pullover:

I know. I still have a pair of socks and a shawl on the needles. And there's a blanket warp that I haven't touched in months! Poor thing is stuck about 1/4 of the way along the winding part. We will not speak about how much more work there is to do with the dyeing and warping and weaving and finishing! I haven't given it up entirely. It's just on hiatus.

James is a fairly straightforward top-down raglan sweater with a flared body and 7/8 length sleeves by Amy Miller. Yeah, the second sweater in a row from that designer. Hey, I only just realised it! I have a couple of minor modifications that will make it more useful in my wardrobe one of which is to make it longer. Maybe with some short row curves on the hem? A lot depends on how much yarn I will have available since I only dyed 3 skeins. More on this as it goes on. Meanwhile, I haven't totally given up on my other neglected knits. I'm at the heel turns on both of the socks for Thom and I've made some significant progress on the shawl.

Anyway, backing up to show off my finished Isabel cardi, here's Debbie Double wearing it while it dried properly:

It took several days to dry! Note the darker area at the hem is just a shadow. There are a lot of those around here these days. And here it is on lil' ol' me:

The Espresso Heather colour looks different in every photo and the weather has not been cooperating for photographing outdoors. Talk about changeable! The picture of the sweater on Debbie is probably closest. It's a really useful neutral in my wardrobe. I'm really happy with how this turned out - eventually - and it's quite lightweight but still cosy and warm. I'm getting quite a nice selection of well-fitting sweaters now!

So the garden progress has slowed down to a crawl because I just came down with yet another Holiday Bug! Remember when I caught the last one right after Christmas? This one showed up right after Easter. Grrr...I'm supposed to be at my weavers' guild meeting right now. Instead I'm drinking buckets of tea and snurfling into my hankie. I wonder how long I'll be able to keep my eyes open this evening because I sure didn't sleep more than a wink last night thanks to the fever and body aches. Stuff happens, eh? I'm trying not to wallow in my disappointment.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!

We are finally in full-on cherry blossom season around here! This photo was taken a few days ago on one of the few nice days we've had between the rainy ones and the petals are already starting to make pink and white snow now. Our spring weather is still running several weeks later than usual and I haven't even started planting my seedlings in the garden yet. Better be soon though because they are starting to outgrow their little flats and I don't want to have to repot them all again. My task is set for this week!

Meanwhile, I finally FINALLY finished knitting the Isabel Likes Espresso cardigan. Yay! It took over two months of pretty steady knitting and you've already heard my lament at having to reknit the sleeves so many times. I will show it off when it dries since it's currently being wet-blocked. Not an easy task because the sweater's shape doesn't lie completely flat no matter what I do. I turned it over when the fronts were nearly dry and opened out the collar/front bands and put a couple of small glass jars on the curling collar to hopefully flatten it a little. It's still going to roll somewhat anyway but that's the nature of the K1/P3 slip-stitch rib. It's mostly reverse stockinette so of course it rolls to the side with all the purls. More on this FO soon.

Now I'm really trying very hard to resist casting on another sweater from my queue. At least until I've finished something else. I've picked up the green Spring Thaw shawl again in hopes I can get it done soon. The poor thing has been languishing as a wee little triangle for months. It's not a difficult knit but needs some watching and chart reading so I can't just knit and read a book at the same time. I know others get bored with plain stockinette but I can knit miles of it without really looking but I really bog down when I have to pay attention. So I usually have a plain project on the go at the same time as a more complex one. Right now that's the After The Melting socks that have also been languishing along with the shawl. Hopefully I can get some real progress going on them now. Preferably before I can't stand it any more and cast on another sweater!

Speaking of progress, I've recently discovered that knitting progress markers really work. When you're knitting on something that doesn't seem to be getting any longer, a marker that's popped on at the place you begin knitting that day shows you how far (or not!) you've gotten when you put it down. I got a few more lobster clasps from the bead store and made myself a whole set of progress markers:

The copper hand was instrumental in helping me finish that last stinkin' sleeve! All these charms were out of my ancient bead stash. I'd forgotten about the cute little petroglyph male and female. I think they were supposed to become earrings which I no longer bother with. In fact I don't wear jewelry at all anymore for some reason. Feels too fussy maybe? For starters I can't even wear my wedding ring without getting dermatitis under the band. Bleh. Instead of "statement" necklaces I wear scarves and shawls. Of course that means that now I have a boatload of bead supplies that I'll likely never use. Unless the beads are large enough to thread into my knitting. Surprisingly I don't have all that many that are suitable.

Even though I've been very resistant to shopping, somehow this last month or so I have been indulging in some crafty purchases. There was all that Cloudborn yarn from Craftsy, the wool roving from Fibres West and now I've gone and bought a rather weighty book from Maiwa Supply on Granville Island:

Sequence Knitting: Simple Methods for Creating Complex Reversible Fabrics by Cecilia Campochiaro. Here's the Ravelry link so you can see the patterns. However, I didn't buy it for those but for the technique and the swatches. This is like a master's thesis in mathematical progressions using the binary of knits and purls in a relatively simple way to create textures. As far as the author knows, nobody had done such a complete study of this idea before. Personally I'm allergic to math unless you add something crafty to it! And this is fascinating. I would love to take some of her swatches and use it to create garments (or parts of garments) rather than small accessories like her scarves, shawls and hats. Might never happen. But meanwhile I can read the book and maybe play with the ideas.

I've also managed to purchase two sewing patterns in PDF. Since I haven't even begun to dig through my sewing and reorganise my queue, I'll hold off on talking about them. Suffice it to say that I love the instant gratification of getting the pattern online but then the process slows down while I print and paste and trace and adjust before I can even begin to cut out fabric. And I'd best get to sewing really soon if I'm going to have anything to wear at ANWG in Victoria. There's only a little over 2 months to go.

Before we head off to Milady Daughter's for our Easter dinner, I'll leave you with more lovely sakura. Vancouver's skies are rarely quite this blue!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

A Tale of Two Sleeves

I don't really like having too many projects on the go at once. Right now there are most definitely too many - not counting all the new things I want to make! The knitting queue just keeps getting longer and I haven't even sorted out my spring sewing yet. Soon.

Instead I've been madly knitting away on my Isabel cardi. And I'd nearly be finished now if it wasn't for the sleeves. Oy, they have given me trouble! It all began when I picked up the stitches around the armhole. FYI: the sleeves in this sweater are knitted down with a short-row set-in sleeve cap. I've done that before without too much incident. But this cap seemed to have too few stitches for a good fit over the shoulder. ??? You knitters already know what went through my mind: it'll work out in the blocking. Knitting is stretchy, right? I dutifully carried on and got several inches down into the arm, enough to try it on. Definitely much too tight! What? I have skinny arms and narrow shoulders and unless something was freakishly wrong, they should have fit fine. Not.

So...I pulled it all out and tried again following the pattern for two sizes larger. Yes, knitted into the same armhole and the ten extra stitches actually seemed a much better number to start with. Knit-knit-knit. Finished the sleeve all the way down to the extra-long cuff's still tight. I can get my bare arm in ok but wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt it's a little uncomfortable. NO!!! It'll block out, right? Right?

So...I carried on with the second sleeve and got down to the first few inches past the short-rows and...finally noticed that my needle size was wrong. I had picked up the wrong needles when I started the first sleeve! NO!!! I was knitting them with 3mm dpns instead of 3.25mm dpns. All this damn time! Ah-ha. That's why the sleeve was too small. Grrr...

So...I frogged again down to the first pick-up round (still 10 stitches larger) and started yet again. Now I'm back again to where I was on the second sleeve and it's finally looking like it should:

Who'd a-thunk that a measly quarter of a millimetre in needle diameter made such a difference? And I'm getting really good at short-rowing sleeve caps with all that practice. (Someone needs to invent a lazy-susan for sweater knitting. Just saying.) However now I still have to frog the entire first sleeve. So sad to pull out 3 days of knitting but hey, I'd rather the darn thing fit properly or it won't be worn. I'm stubborn like that. The designer, Amy Miller, intended the sleeves to be extra long and narrow anyway but nobody has arms quite that stick-like, do they?

Note To Self: Double-check the needle size - and the pattern - when switching needles. Use a needle gauge to compare. Do not rely on my memory. Or a guess.

I may be finally finished this sweater sometime someday. Meanwhile, look for me on Sleeve Island.

What else is new around here? The weather has been very changeable and not especially warm yet though we haven't had any recent frost. Just rain and wind and more rain. Many of my little plantlings are now spending their time in the greenhouse waiting until I can trust them in the garden. A least we're pretty much done with hauling them all out in the morning and back in the basement at night. Exhausting! The tomato seeds are finally in their flats under the lights but they're not up yet. There's still some baby flowers and herbs to transplant into larger pots. The only things I have left to plant in the "grow-op" now are the squashes and cucumbers. But they can wait a little while still. They have a tendency to outgrow their pots really quickly and need to get into the garden promptly but not until it warms up first. Warms up a lot.

One very interesting thing I discovered this year was that freezing the Japanese indigo seeds really does help them stay viable much longer. I planted one flat with 2015 seeds that had been kept sealed in the freezer and one flat with 2016 seeds that had been kept in the cupboard in the basement under the grow-op. They both germinated very well:

I even think that the plants from the older seeds (on the left) are bigger! Yes, I have way too many indigo plants now but I'm going to squeeze in as many as I can in the dye garden. These little guys have been transplanted into larger digs and are still under the lights for now. And all my leftover indigo seeds are back in the freezer.

And another interesting seed discovery: woad seeds germinate better if you break them out of their papery purple-black husks first. The technical name for this is "decortication". Tried both ways and only got one or two of the ones planted whole to germinate but nearly all of the "nekkid" ones came up. Good to know! I don't need a lot of woad this year because I've obviously already got too much Japanese indigo but I'd like to have enough for a dyepot or two. I'm very fond of woad. Just because.

Although I'm complaining about the cold and rain we are finally in full flower in Vancouver. The plum and cherry blossoms are coming out and everyone is enjoying hanami during this short but glorious time. There's a whole avenue of cherries just a few blocks away from us but we haven't walked over there yet. I'll be sure to take pics when we do! In our own yard we don't have cherry blossoms but we do have the Japanese pieris (aka lily-of-the-valley shrub or andromeda) which not only look beautiful at every season but the flowers smell divine:

We have little pink and red-flowering varieties too but these are our oldest ones and the biggest is more than 15 feet tall. Like everything in the heath family they love our damp acid soil. Glad something does!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

More Rhubarb & A Field Trip

I just couldn't bring myself to dump out the rhubarb root dyepot quite yet! So I tore off a width of the wool gauze knit I told you about and gave it a quick wash in Unicorn Power Scour (there was quite a bit of sheepy smell and grease or oil in the fabric). The cut edges madly rolled up to the right side so I didn't think any kind of edge finishing would be necessary. Then I popped it in the reheated pot for an overnight soak. Of course I couldn't leave it just plain, could I? Instead I scrunched the whole loop up in my gloved hand and dipped one end in the soda ash jar and the other end in an iron solution. When I realised that I'd somehow gotten drips of iron water on the pinkish edge, I dripped some more on both edges to make the mistake look deliberate. Somehow those drips are darker than the greenish edge - both iron and alkaline creating grey? In the end I didn't leave the piece very long but tried rinsing it out quickly in order to avoid getting iron water all over it and dulling all the colours. The end result is not terribly exciting but I like it wrapped 3 times around my neck:

It stays put very well and keeps my neck warm but not too hot. Oh, and the sock yarn dried to a slightly more golden hue than the Highland wool did:

Very pretty! The little swatch of 20/2 wool was in the same pot and it is quite a bit lighter lemon yellow. Fascinating stuff. Meanwhile I still have some yellow in the pot but now I'm really planning to dump it because there's nothing left to dye right now. That was about 450g of fibre and only 150g of rhubarb root. I would say it's a pretty giving plant, wouldn't you? Roots (dye), leaves (mordant and dye) and of course the stalks (eating!) Here's one of my precious patches:

What else? Oh yeah. A proper photo of the Late Winter Fields Shawl:

I really like how it turned out and the handspun Corriedale holds its blocking beautifully. The pattern is Shaelyn by Leila Raabe. I made a few changes: balancing the lace pattern, knit 5 pattern repeats and didn't do the p2togs in the final lace section. I bound off after the last garter row with the Russian bind-off (k2tog tbl) for a nice substantial edge. Sadly it may not see too much use now until next autumn. But that's ok. It's a great memory of the snowiest iciest winter that I can ever remember in Vancouver.

Speaking of which, the city finally came and swept up all the sand that they threw on the icy streets. It was too much too late but better late than never, I suppose. Now maybe the vehicles won't get so covered in the dust!

On Thursday, Thom and I went to Granville Island for the opening of my friend Dawn's gallery show at the Craft Council of BC. Entitled "Thirteen to Zero: exploring sustainable design", she is working with historical cloth-cutting techniques to reduce fabric waste to zero. Dawn also uses plant dyes, rusting and other eco-conscious colouring methods. This approach is right up my alley, although I'm not so fond of the fit on my own body of most of the ethnic and historical garment shapes. I was curious to see what she did with the ideas.

The top on the left is pieced from small squares with the surface patterning eco-dyed with leaves and seeds. The bog jacket on the right is handwoven silk and Hanji paper yarn and rust-dyed. And this indigo dyed wool jersey top has no fabric waste:

This Greek-inspired cotton/linen dress is also indigo shibori-dyed to evoke dappled light on water:

The last piece is the most elaborate: subtraction cutting technique, ferment/compost dyed linen:

There was a photo of this gorgeous dress on a model along with the pattern:

You can see Dawn explaining her techniques to visitors just behind! If you are local, you should come and check it out in person, on at Crafthouse until May 4th. Dawn Michelle Russell, Della Terra Designs.

May I add here that knitting my sweaters is very minimal waste! A few small ends for the compost and sometimes leftovers to be used in another project. Result: a garment that fits exactly the way I want it, one stitch at a time. In my sewing I have a few more bits of waste depending on the pattern but I've discovered that if I'm making more than one garment I can arrange all the pattern pieces at once and become very efficient. Like a real-life Tetris game! My expensive Italian wool suiting had barely the tiniest scraps left over and I got a shirt-jacket and a vest with pieced collar and pockets both of which I wear a lot. Sewing doesn't always work out quite so well but we do what we can, right?

So if you didn't see it on Instagram (my user name: this is my next spinning project, the yarn for a sweater for Thom from the lovely Coopworth roving I bought at Fibres West from Birkeland Bros. The actual colour is a little cooler than the photo - kind of a warm mid-grey. He loves it and I've already spun nearly half a bobbin of singles. I'm going to be using my new Killer Kate to ply this so I need 3 full bobbins first! It spins up easily so will be a very pleasant task. Good thing because this will be a lot of yarn! Again.

I also want to whine about wanting to start my new yellow sweater as soon as the Cloudborn yarn is dry. However, I still need to finish a few other knitting projects first, not the least of which is the Isabel Likes Espresso cardi. I'm nearly up to the armholes and I'm still on the second skein. This stuff has amazing yardage! Though I'm sure I'll be joining a new ball tonight while I watch TV. Moving right along...

Thursday, March 23, 2017

So Spring

Hello, my dears! I hope you are enjoying some signs of spring wherever you are. Unless of course you live in the Southern Hemisphere - does anyone read my blog from there? Shout out if you do! Anyway, there are (finally!) plenty of spring-like things going on around here. I've been planting seeds in flats in the Grow-Op:

This photo was taken several days ago and there are already little green shoots poking up and more flats planted. Soon I'll have to transplant my early Asian greens into bigger digs and put them out in the greenhouse during the day until their garden beds are ready. They don't much like the heat under the lights. I was out there mucking about already and managed to get the peas in a week earlier than last year. Yay me! I also cleaned up, dug and manured the dye garden. The asparagus and rhubarb got fertilized also. Lots more work left to do still though! This is the most intense time of the year for the garden.

Speaking of rhubarb, I finally used some of my precious dried rhubarb roots:

Notice how the ziploc baggie is turning yellow! This stuff is potent and even likes to stain plastic. Not so useful on cellulose fibres however judging by the cotton ties on my skeins. So what did I dye? I got my last order of Cloudborn yarn from Craftsy! And immediately decided that I needed to dye 3 of the 4 skeins of Oatmeal Heather:

This is a lovely creamy near-white but I'm really craving a yellow sweater. 3 skeins equal just under 1500 yards in total and I have an idea on the pattern which only should take around 1300. I used 150g of the rhubarb root (50% WOF) and did a triple extraction for the dyebath. That means that I soaked the roots in hot water for about an hour, strained the plant matter out and dumped the juice in the dyepot and then repeated this sequence three times. They don't need much heat or it will bring out more gold tones so I kept everything below even a simmer, just barely steaming.

Then, since it doesn't really need a mordant for yellow, I just soaked the skeins while I was extracting and popped them right in when the pot was ready. I went down to the dye studio several times to turn the skeins and heat the pot again briefly and then finally left the pot to sit overnight. And we have yellow:

I had a heck of a time getting a true colour photo. This one is close but these skeins are still damp and also haven't had the excess dye rinsed off yet. I'm heeding the advice of Kathy Hattori (of Botanical Colors) to not rinse the fibre until it has dried bone dry first. She says it makes for deeper more fast colours. OK, I'm game to try. Though the yarn needs a tray underneath because no matter how well I squeeze it out it drips a lot! Now I know why people dye outdoors.

This morning there was still quite a lot of dye left in the pot so I decided to also sacrifice one of my white Cloudborn merino/nylon sock yarn skeins to the dye gods. It came out a little deeper than the first yarn and more golden in tone. Superwash wool yarn is a dye sponge! The little bit of regular wool thrums I threw in was quite a lot lighter, more of a lemon yellow. I haven't taken a photo of these yet.

Rhubarb root is really versatile and you can get a whole range of colours depending on pH and other modifiers. Apparently Alum mordant gives more of a gold, iron modifier will turn it green and copper modifier gives tan. I decided to scoop out a bit of the dye liquor and try adding soda ash to turn it pink. Wow. Did it ever!

I only dyed another little wool thrum bundle in this very alkaline bath:

So not yellow! You definitely don't want to heat this bath too hot or the high pH will damage the wool. I rinsed it rather quickly after only giving it an hour or so in the dye. Definitely possibilities here if you (unlike me) are fond of pinks. The true colour is actually a little less peachy than the photo.

That was fun. Now I still have a little bit of colour in the dyepot but I've exhausted all the fibres that I wanted to dye. So I guess it's going bye-bye. I still have plenty of roots left and now I'm wishing I'd divided my rhubarb again this year. It probably needs it too but it's a bit late now so I'll wait until earlier next spring. It's a big job! I have 4 or 5 plants now and nowhere to put any more of them so splitting would be more for the roots for dye and refreshing the clumps than to propagate new plants.

Well, I have more news too but I'll save it all for next time.