Wednesday, January 25, 2017

2016 Recap

2016 was a crazy busy year!  James scheduled more vintage races than ever, so there were lots of trips.  First off was Amelia Island, Florida in March.  It was pretty low key and we stayed right on the beach, so there was plenty of time for walks.  It wasn't a huge race, but there were some interesting cars.  We always see lots of "Rileys", but this time there was a "Tucker Special".

April was the annual "girls trip".  Since our usual retreat didn't make this year, we decided to just head out for San Antonio and Fredericksburg on our own.  We missed getting together with out-of-town friends, but Roddie, Sam, and I managed to have a fun time on our own.  If you're ever in Fredericksburg and want to visit wineries, the wine bus is worth every penny.  $20 and you can hop on and off all day.  The only catch is that you can't back-track so you have to visit them in the order the bus runs.  By the end of the day we were best friends with the whole bus!  Way better than driving.

In May, we celebrate all of our grandchildren's birthdays.  They're spaced about a week apart, so it can be a challenge logistically.  Especially when you throw in Mother's Day too.  This year I managed to squeeze in a trip to Arkansas with my mom so we could visit Aunt Robbie who was 102!  We also wandered around old cemeteries looking for ancestors, and visited my great-grandparents old farm.  Mom's cousin still lives there, but the old house is long gone.  Only thing left is part of the barn and smokehouse.  But the house in Ashdown where my mom lived (and later Aunt Robbie's family), is still there are beautiful.

June began with James in Norwich at the Lotus Factory.  While he was gone, I picked up the boys after school let out.  Riley spends most of the summer with us, and Tucker is here when we're taking trips.  Since James' god-son was graduating from medical school in NYC, we started off the summer with the boy's first plane ride.  They were pretty nervous, but made it through ok.

It was kind of a whirlwind trip, but we did manage to squeeze in Times Square, the Empire State Building, and Central Park.  I think Riley and Tucker enjoyed the park more than anything, and we walked our legs off every day.  After the graduation ceremony, we ate dinner at Patsy's, which was some of the best Italian food I've ever had.  It was exactly what I would have expected from an old New York restaurant - tiny, busy, lots of old photos of movie stars on the walls.

When we got home, we had a few weeks off before our next adventure, so it was finally time to get started on my weaving studio.  After tossing around lots of ideas, we decided to build a Tuff Shed and finish it the inside.  It has about 800 sq ft, so there should be plenty of room for looms and spinning wheels.  And it looks so cute sitting next to the house!

A few days after the Tuff Shed was up, we left on our next big trip.  It was kind of a celebration of Tucker having successfully finishing chemo, so we brought Chris and Shelly along too and took off for Mont Tremblant in Canada.  It was a crazy long drive, but once we got there it was absolutely beautiful.  Since we were entering Canada late in the afternoon, we stayed near the border and took a daytrip to Fort Henry the next morning.  It's a beautiful old fort with lots of reenactors, shops, and a nice restaurant.  Very interesting to see what life would be like when it was active.  Everything you needed was inside the fort.  Chris showed the boys how to roll a barrel hoop and explained that it was something kids used to do to entertain themselves.  I don't think they can even imagine what life would be like without phones, tablets, and video games!

Once at the track, they put our Texas group in our own paddock area.  It was a little tricky getting around to take photos, but everything else was so convenient.

We had seven cars entered in the event, and everyone was still running at the end which is always a successful event.  Not to say there weren't issues, but since some of us were heading to the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix on our way home, we were glad that all the cars and drivers were still in one piece!

On our way to Pittsburgh, we managed to talk James into stopping in Niagra Falls.  After all, who knows when we'll ever be back up here again.  Especially after our run in at a Canadian truck inspection station!  But that's a whole 'nuther story!  So after squeezing "Big Red" through a tunnel in the dead of night, we made it to our hotel mostly unscathed.  The next morning, we walked over to the falls, donned our rain ponchos and water sandals, and braved the Cave of the Winds.  Even with the ponchos, we were pretty wet!

Pittsburgh wasn't as kind to us this year.  They let people in early, so we had quite a challenge getting the car haulers parked.  Thankfully, it didn't rain or we would have probably been there for weeks.  And the race took it's toll on cars.  James had a fire, which put him out of the running, then Doc got hit in the final.  Plus everyone was tired from being on the road so long, so it was good to get home again.

August found the boys back in school, so James and I were off to Wales for the Fun Cup.  What a wonderful trip!  Since James and Andy were co-driving and they had someone else preparing the car, there was plenty of time for sight-seeing.  Andy and Merrie were kind enough to give us their guest room for the trip, which was so relaxing.  They live in Swansea near the university, but it's also within walking distance of town.  We slept in every day, walked to town for lunch and sight-seeing, and enjoyed getting to visit with friends.  I'm sure they were probably more than ready to have their home back to themselves, but we had a great time.  We only rented a car for a week to hit some of the outlying areas.  Wales is so small that you can get just about anywhere in a few hours.  In addition to the racing, I was able to attend a workshop at the Swansea Festival of Stitch, we visited the Dr. Who Experience and Stonehenge, explored several woolen mills, and had a fun at-home wine tasting on our last night.

After being on the road for most of July and August, it was nice to have a break in September.  James still had lots going on, but I took the month off since I knew October was going to be busy again.  I had signed up for Spinzilla again, which is an entire week where you spin as much yarn as you can.  By the time it ended, I could hardly even hold onto the yarn.  Good old carpal tunnel!  But I did win a couple of nice prizes for coming in 3rd place in our group and having the photo with the most "likes".

The week after Spinzilla, I went to the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY.  The weather was perfect and the leaves were turning.  Absolutely beautiful!  It's a great festival with loads of vendors, sheep, fiber, and yarn.  I do have to admit that I just don't get quite as excited about yarn since I spin.  The booths were filled with lots of stuff from indie dyers, but it all just started looking the same.  It didn't stop me from buying anything, but I mostly focus on breeds that I don't have, or yarns that aren't available locally.  We are very blessed to have so many great yarn shops nearby.  One of the highlights of the festival was running into a lady that I had bought a favorite fleece from several years ago.  I had only talked to her online, so it was nice to get to meet her in person.  It was a great venue, but if I could only do one wool fest, it would be the Black Sheep Gathering in Oregon.

When I got home it was time to leave for another vintage race in Savannah.  This is one of our annual trips and always fun.  This year we stayed at the Westin on the island, which made it very easy to get around with just a golf cart.  And we could sleep in!  I love hotel living.  Doc trophied, but James and the girls weren't so lucky.  We were just glad Serena was ok after hitting the wall.

Once we got home, it was time to start working on my studio in ernest.  But I'll save that for it's own post!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Independence Farmstead Fibers

I finally got the call that my roving was ready, so I took advantage of the beautiful day to drive up to Independence Farmstead Fibers, which is just outside of Brenham.  They have only been in business since 2014, but are fast becoming overwhelmed by fleece since there just aren't any other mills around that will process small amounts.  They will process your fleece into roving or yarn, so a lot of the local sheep ranchers have been sending them fleece, too.  They are currently not accepting any more fleece, so I was very happy I took mine in when I did!  You can see in the photos below that they've got a big stash to get through.  It was really interesting to see the machinery and the steps the fiber goes through.

I had given them a Romney fleece and a Polworth fleece that had been languishing in my stash for a few years.  I had purchased Princess (the Romney) from Skylines Farm in Idaho.  It was a beautiful fleece weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds.  I cleaned it in a fermented suint vat (FSV), with one additional wash in Dawn.  It had a little bit of lanolin left, but not enough to need another wash.  After washing and processing into roving, I still had 6 pounds.  Here's the fleece as it came from the farm.

The Polworth fleece is one from Jane Sheppard's stash, that was given to me by her friend Denise.  I don't remember her owning any Polworth sheep, so I'm pretty sure it was one she bought.  It had already been washed when I got it, and weighed 4.6 pounds.  I used a few ounces of it during the 2014 Tour de Fleece on Ravelry, so I was happily surprised to end up with 4.1 pounds of finished roving!  Especially since it had to have another wash at the mill.

So now I have 10 pounds of fluffy, fresh roving.  Ready to start spinning for Spinzilla 2016.  I'll probably just spin a lot of boring singles, then I can decide how much to make into 2-ply for lace knitting, and 3-ply for a sweater.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole...again

A month or so ago, our weaving guild webmaster received an email from a woman wanting to donate a knitting machine to a local group.  She had purchased it in the mid '80s and never learned to use it.  Now, she and her husband are long retired and downsizing, so she was looking for a group that would put it to use.  So the email was forwarded to me (a knitter).  Although it sounded like something intersting, I've got enough "stuff" of my own.  I forwarded the email to a machine knitter friend who belongs to a local guild.  No interest there either.  In the meantime, I got a wild hair to knit some sock blanks to play with dyeing, and it would be perfect for the knitting guild to use for charity knitting.  So I sent a note to see if the machine was still there.  It was, and in fact they were in the middle of moving.  All of the knitting machines I've ever seen were small enough to fit in my car, and pretty easy to move, so I was kind of skeptical when Mr. G said I should bring help to get it downstairs and in my vehicle (I hadn't seen any photos).  But my sweet hubby was free and volunteered to help.  OMG!  The knitting machine turned out to be a Swiss made Passap Duomatic 80 with Electra 3000a motor, Deco attachment (which does motifs from punchcards), and Form Computer.  And this thing was massively heavy!  I was trying to pretend like it wasn't so bad as we struggled to get it down a spiral staircase, but I doubt I fooled anyone.  Eventually we got it in the back of my KIA with the front seat pushed all the way forward, which made for a long ride home.

I set it up in the guest room, since the light it good there, until the studio is finished (not discussing that at the moment).  After sitting for almost 30 years, the old Beladore oil had everything pretty much immobile, so I started perusing the internet looking for YouTube videos, instruction manuals, Yahoo and Facebook groups, etc.  It took a couple of days just to learn enough vocabulary to ask a semi-intelligent question.  But I connected with a couple of good groups who suggested I talk to a lady from Leander, TX  who has a whole series of YouTube videos on working with this particular model of machine.  So I hunted down Barbara, who turned out to be a wonderful resource and so much help.  She and her husband actually drove down, brought me some yarn to get started (turns out you need special yarn for machine knitting), and took a look at the machine to see what I needed to do.  So I spent an entire day taking things apart, removing all the needles and pins, cleaning, oiling, etc.  And now it's back together.  And it works!

Since the original manual was lost, I downloaded a copy onto my tablet and have started working my way through the sample exercises.  I had some issues with the edges at the beginning of the first one, but it's not too bad.

Hopefully by the time I get to the end, I can start working on some knitted blanks to play with.  Not that I don't have anything to do.  I'm supposed to be knitting a baby blanket for a baby due in November; I've been tying shibori squares to make placemats for the CHT conference next June; teaching a weaving class for Park Avenue Yarns; making some more dishtowels for the CHH sale in November; and endlessly mowing.  Good thing I'm retired and don't have anything to do!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Happy Anniversary KANG

This August marks the 20th Anniversary of the Knit at Night Guild. It was formed when two best friends, Denise Winter and Jane Sheppard, saw a need for a knitting group which met at night so that working people could attend. They put a small notice in the paper and spread the word at Turrentine's, a local yarn shop (which later became Nancy's Knits). To their surprise, that first meeting was packed and they moved the meeting location to the Tracy Gee Community Center in the same room where the Chix with Stix chapter meets now. I wasn't at that first meeting (I was pretty intimidated having learned to knit only a few months earlier), but my friends Ann Cole and Roddie Shelly got me there asap (we met when we took knitting lessons at Turrentines).  And I am so glad they did! I have made so many new friends that I probably wouldn't have met otherwise, and my knitting improved in a hurry with so many talented mentors, classes, and workshops.  In those early years, we had a Saturday workshop once a month, featuring a new technique that was used to make squares for community service afghans.  Plus we brought in a nationally recognized instructor twice a year for weekend workshop, and supplemented with member-led 1 day workshops at various times throughout the year.  The guild's mission was education, and we certainly nailed it!  The year that Roddie and I attended Stitches West, we took goodie bags made up by the guild for every instructor there, and made sure that we met them all personally (usually in the bar).  It definitely made it easy to find people who wanted to come here to teach!  Here are a few of us from the trip to Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in 2006. (l to r:  Virgina Martinez, Roddie, me, Anne Sasko, Ann Cole, Jan Clark)

Over the years, KANG grew to over 350 members. We threw our own "mini-Stitches" event at the Hotel Sofitel for our 10th anniversary, with a market, meet and greet with chocolate fountain, banquet and style show, judged knitting competition, an anniversary tote bag full of goodies, and classes featuring local teachers and teachers from across the country.

It was a huge undertaking, and took the cooperation of the entire membership to pull it off. You can check out some of my pictures here.  The market was about the size of Yellow Rose now, and featured mostly local vendors, in addition to kits and yarns from teachers and member booths.  The whole event was a huge success thanks to the vision and energy from our then President, Vicki Katz.  I have never met anyone who was so organized and could get people to do anything she needed.  Here's Vicki celebrating after the conference.

By our 15th anniversary in 2011, the guild had decided to split up into chapters (boo!) to make it more convenient for members to attend meetings. At that time, there was the KNOT chapter in Spring, the KNOW chapter in Katy, and KANG (the mother guild) in central Houston. This made planning a big event more logistically challenging, so we went with a luncheon and speaker, Adrienne Martini, for this event.

 We introduced Adrienne to watermelon margaritas at dinner.   For our party favor, we had a special yarn colorway, "Jane", commissioned by Mama Llama (Catherine Kerth) just for us, in memory of Jane Sheppard.  It was a fun event, but also bittersweet, in that it highlighted the fact that there were so many people that we didn't get to see on a monthly basis now that everyone met in chapters. You can see luncheon photos here.

Now here we are in August 2016, with six chapters, celebrating our 20th anniversary. Jane passed away before our 10th anniversary, but I know that Denise is happy to see their legacy continue. A few of you may have run into her at Fiber Fest on Friday. As the chapters seem to be celebrating the milestone individually, I'll just be getting together with my BKB (best knitting buddy), Roddie, and we'll offer a toast to friends past and present, remembering the great times we've had over the years.  I really miss having the guild meet as one group.  We've lost a lot of the cohesiveness and comraderie that comes with having all the members gathered together.  Maybe I can talk some young, energetic person into planning a guild-wide Christmas party?

So here's to another 20 years KANG.  Hope I'm still alive to celebrate!
This is Roddie and me with Denise at the 10th anniversary conference.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I Surrender

One of many things on my weaving bucket list is was to do the overshot pattern "Lee's Surrender"/. Since I can't stand to have a naked loom sitting around and I had the thread I needed, I decided to tackle this milestone in my weaving journey. Overshot is an impressive looking weave structure, but not especially difficult. The issues arise because of the complex threading pattern, which involved lots of counting and re-counting, and the long treadling sequence. I should have realized that this was going to be a challenge when I wound off the incorrect number of warp threads and had to add 36 more to each side after the warp was already on the loom. Thankfully I noticed the error before threading or I probably would have just thrown in the towel before I ever got started. But being not one to back down from a challenge, I pulled the first warp out, added the new threads to each side, and re-wound it back on. This was reminiscent of the infamous Texas Bluebonnet Tartan warp which took over 40 hours to get on the loom. 10/2 mercerized cotton has a good amount of twist, which makes it really strong; but also makes it tend to wrap around itself like a rope when you have a long bunch of threads that are not under tension. Thankfully I was able to utilize the tips and pitfalls I learned during the Tartan Debacle to get this warp back on in just an afternoon. But it definitely required a certain amount of alcohol at the end.

I was really careful during the threading because the Baby Mac has stainless steel heddles, and shafts that are really close together because of it's compact size. A threading error could mean hours of work making the correction. So after much counting and re-counting I began weaving. I used 10/2 mercerized cotton for the warp and tabby weft, and 5/2 mercerized cotton for the pattern weft. After a slow start (it really took some concentration to throw pattern weft, tabby weft, pattern weft, tabby weft...) I was about halfway through when I noticed an odd blank area in Block B.

After posting to the 4-Shaft Facebook group and getting lots of input and advice, I determined that I needed to be more consistent in how I was beating it, and to leave more of an angle in the pattern weft. But in addition, I noticed the dreaded THREADING ERROR! If you look 1 block up and two blocks to the right of the red arrow, there is a tan thread running down the middle of the green bar. Arrrrggggghhhh! Since I was already halfway through the first table runner, I just cut it off to be able to fix the error. Since you can't just add in a metal heddle once everything is threaded, I made a string heddle, which was not an easy feat working in tight quarters on a threaded loom. I actually make two string heddles because the first one I accidently tied to the wrong shaft (again). Once everything was tied and re-tensioned, it was time to start weaving again. By this time, I'm working really hard on beating consistently. I get to Block B, and get the same wierd space again. And then I realize - I'm looking at the wrong side of the fabric!! The Baby Mac is a jack loom (the shafts lift when you press on the treadles), and the draft was written for a sinking shed loom (shafts go down when you press the heddles). So I pull out the sample I had cut off, turn it over, and voila - no error at all.

At this point, the body is looking pretty decent, but my selvedges are horrendously ugly. One of the benefits of belonging to a weaving guild with an extensive library is that you can check out books on just about any weaving topic you can imagine. Donna Sullivan's book "Weaving Overshot" provided lots of good information and also suggested using floating selvedges. I normally do this anyway, but had read somewhere else that they weren't necessary since you have a tabby weft anchoring the pattern weft in overshot. Well let me say this, "I will never do another overshot pattern without a floating selvedge." I added one in for the next table runner, and it helped immensely. I also tried out a wool pattern weft. The pattern is a little more subtle in the wool after wet finishing, and it doesn't need quite as hard a beat (since it's squishy) as the cotton. Although happy with how both of these came out, they both have errors where I pressed a pattern treadle instead of a tabby treadle a couple of times. That means they won't be going in the CHH sale, but staying with me. I'd like to do them again on the David loom, now that I know what I need to do differently. But that's probably not going to happen for a while. In the meantime, here are pictures of the finished runners.

Breaking in the Baby Mac

Last November I ran across a small portable 8-shaft loom for sale on Ravelry. The price was right, and it was located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Never one to shy away from a road trip, I decided that it was just the thing to keep me busy until we could get my studio space done and the David could come out of storage. Not to mention the fact that I had to pass on a workshop that I really wanted to take because it required an 8-shaft loom. So off I went. In retrospect, it wasn't quite as good a deal as it seemed after factoring in gas and hotel, but you know how it is when you get caught up in the heat of the moment. Once home, I brought her in and started setting up for a practice project to work out the kinks. It's amazing to me that anyone was actually weaving on it at all considering how many things were assembled wrong, screws in backwards, etc. Must have been a nightmare! But she's all cleaned up now, added more heddles and texolv cords for tie-up.

My first project was a scarf using some 5/2 rayon slub that I found in the clearance section of a weaving shop in Comfort. I figured that if things didn't go well, I at least would be out much if I had to cut it off! Turned out pretty nice, even if I do say so myself. So nice, that I put it in my Etsy shop (in case anyone is interested in a gift.)

Now for the loom review. Pros: It's portable. I can get it in and out of the car by myself. And it will fold up with the warp on and the treadles tied (if you're using Texsolv). Cons: This loom is made for someone of average to below average height. It's not too bad to weave on, but getting the warp on and threading heddles and reed are a pain. Literally! I really like warping back to front, but I'm afraid that I'm going to have to give that up and go front to back just to save my back. Even with the loom up on blocks and sitting on a low stool, it's too low to thread comfortably. Then tying up the treadles required laying flat on my back in the floor to be able to see the bottom of the harnesses and hook up the treadles. But the little cushion I bought for yoga works great as a pillow! There is no way I could use this loom for a workshop that required changing the tie-up during class. But once you get all that done, it weaves nicely (even though it's pretty tight getting my legs to fit).

Now that it had been 9 months since we moved, I found the deadline for "swatch swap" fast approacing. And the David was still in storage. The topic for this year was 10/2, so I had decided I wanted to do doubleweave using 10/2 cotton. If I'm going to do samples, I may as well be learning something too, and I had never quite been able to wrap my head around how to weave two layers at once. The nice thing is that you have a nice pattern on the front and back, and the fabric is really sturdy (would make great upholstery fabric). The bad thing is that you have double the number of threads that you would normally be using for the same width cloth, which takes a long time to thread (oh, my aching back). But it was worth the effort, as I was really pleased with how they came out. In fact, once David is out of storage I may do some fabric for pillows or a jacket or a bag. The pictures below are the front and back of my swatches.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

New Year, New Leaf

Ok, I was definitely a slacker on blogging last year! Maybe because it was just so crazy! We've moved from the suburbs to 50 acres about 45 minutes from Houston. Spring 2015 was spent finalizing the house deal and packing; then we moved over the summer in two stages. Wild! Thank goodness Riley spent the summer with us. He was a lifesaver and a great help getting the new place ready. We took out all the old venetian blinds and painted the entire interior of the house - the walls at least. I have to admit that I still haven't done the baseboards and trim, though hopefully soon.

I have to admit that I really didn't think that I would enjoy this "country living". But it is growing on me. It is wonderful to sit out on the porch with a nice glass of wine, watch the boys fish, relax.

And we have lots of bunnies! I found these adorable babies while cleaning up a pile of brush. Then I had to try and remake the house so mamma wouldn't be unhappy when she got home.

So welcome to our little slice of country, and stay tuned for the next adventure.