Saturday, June 21, 2014

Butler Bombs a JEEP!

The Butler Spinners and Weavers Guild has bombed out!

Not really. One of our members participates in the Bantam Jeep Rally in Butler each year. We decided her Jeep needed to be blessed with yarn this year. Members wove/felted/crocheted/knitted pieces; a muslin cover was made for the Jeep; pieces were sewn to the muslin--HOURS of work by many people. I sat at home for 2 weeks and crocheted wheel inserts and a cover for the spare tire--thank goodness for Netflix? We did a fitting during our meeting in the park. Black knitted cord was sewn to the patches to outline Jeep details. Finally, on Main Street in Butler, a sheep was added to the passenger and a wonderful dry-felted wolf became the driver. Our theme, which happens to have flipped over when the final photo was taken, was "Meals On Wheels".

And what can one do with all that leftover bright yarn? I originally had 4 skeins of white and one each of dayglo orange, yellow, green and red. I frequently contribute to a center that distributes handmade scarves, hats, toys, etc. to women's shelters in the Pittsburgh area. These woman and children are fleeing from unacceptable environments and often leave home with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their self-esteem in tatters. Being given something made by hand is very meaningful to these people. The perfect place for bright colors!

Two scarves are finished. I still have leftovers and need to cruise Ravelry patterns--maybe a bright amigurumi toy or two?

Diagonal Block stitch

Second scarf, in progress
I love this stitch!

Friday, June 13, 2014

June is for strawberries

Oh my, it's strawberry season in Western Pennsylvania. When I picked up my CSA on Tuesday I stopped at their market and bought a flat of freshly picked strawberries. I do this every 2 years because I need them for strawberry rhubarb pies that I serve for Easter dessert and for the strawberry freezer jam I make. Since the boys are out of the house, that flat's worth of berries will last us for 2 years.

This morning I washed and cleaned 4 quarts of berries for the freezer. That's enough for 4 pies, or 2 pies and lots of ice cream toppings. I also cleaned enough for a fifth quart to go in the fridge and marinate in honey. Strawberry shortcake for dessert tomorrow!

After lunch with a good friend, I came home to go through the last 4 quarts and make jam. Freezer jam is easy and I like to do the strawberries this way because they aren't cooked into mush. So wonderful to spread the jam on freshly made bread in the dead of winter and bite into a juicy berry piece! We start by getting everything ready.

Don't they look wonderful?

Next we give them a good wash, remove the stem and leaves and cut them into pieces in a bowl. The berries need to be mashed for the jam, but not too much because I want that bite of fruit on my breakfast toast.

Mix the mashed berries with sugar (lots of sugar!) and leave them to set while you mix powdered pectin with water and bring to a boil.

Mix the pectin mixture with the berry/sugar mixture, stir for 2 minutes, fill the freezer containers, and viola! strawberry jam! And a little bit left over so Husbeast can have fresh jam and bread when he gets home. He doesn't know that I've already cleaned off all the other utensils, he thinks he got the only bonus.

Some of the berries just weren't suitable for jam, they were too perfectly ripe and needed to be disposed of immediately <burp>

Have a lovely weekend everyone, and Happy Fathers Day to all those who look out for the welfare of our most precious commodity--the kids!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Spinning in the grease, outside, in the sunshine. Sheer heaven!

Once I had the laundry on the line (I love sheets and towels that are dried in the sunshine), I had a chance to open out the Shetland fleece I'd bought in Wooster. It was well-skirted but I only wanted to flick card the best parts, which would hopefully be plenty for a garment.

Full fleece, minus the neck wool
Nice lock structure!
The first photo shows the entire fleece minus the neck wool which I've already removed. I'm standing where the neck wool used to be and if you squint your eyes a bit, you can see the outline of a sheep if it were laying on it's tummy with legs splayed out. I also pulled off the 4 leg sections; the neck and legs were a bit matted, shorter and have a different feel than the back wool which is the stuff I want to use. The legs/neck will be washed and carded into a different preparation--maybe matching hat/scarf/mitts?

Usually, wool is washed before being carded and spun, but I love to work with a fresh fleece in warm weather. The fiber slips through my fingers, sliding past each other with ease, due to the natural lanolin present in the fiber. Not every fleece lends itself to grease spinning, they need to be neat lock formations, not too filthy (that dirt will deposit on your hands), and free of hay and grasses. The spun yarn will be washed in nice hot water with Orvis paste, rinsed and hung on the line to dry. I'm so happy to be spinning in the grease again.

The cut side of the fleece has short fibers (about 1/4") evenly distributed throughout. They are not second cuts (a second cut is created when the shearer goes over the sheep's skin a second time to get a closer shave, and they make nasty little bumps in the yarn if not picked out). In the past, Shetlands grew double coats, with a short, soft warm fiber close to the body and longer, tougher fibers that discouraged insects and other bothersome things. They also lost their coat naturally each spring (called 'rooing'). I'm assuming, since this is a Shetland lamb's fleece, that it's a manifestation of the double-coat genetics and the new downy wool has begun to grow before the old wool is removed. I knew these were present when I bought the fleece and I knew it wouldn't be a problem to remove them with a few flicks of my dog comb.

And here's the start of the first bobbin. I'm shooting for a 3-ply yarn that will be Aran weight. I want to knit up Elizabeth Lovick's Swing Jacket. I've had the pattern for a couple of years and want to use handspun but haven't been able to find the right fleece until now. I have to be careful with natural colored fleeces, the suntanned tips of the wool often lend a yellow tone to the yarn that just doesn't go with my complexion. This fleece spins up a nice taupe color, just perfect for me!

And just because it makes me happy to have a groundhog-free garden, FINALLY!

Lookit! Peas and beans that are growing, not eaten to nothing.

Lettuce and kohlrabi growing and not eaten to the ground!!

It's enough of a buzz to teach the animals that they don't want to be there, but not so much that it would harm humans. Nevertheless, we have signs for the folks who have to investigate those two lower wires by grabbing them.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Stash Enhancement

Not that I need more fiber, but Great Lakes Fiber Festival gets me every time!

Ready-to-spin fiber:

Gradient Merino/silk top from Fiber Optic

Big Bundles and some spiffy sock yarn from Rivers Edge

And a Shetland lamb's fleece that I just couldn't resist. About a 6" staple, no weak tips, just enough lanolin to make it spin like buttah.....

Photos don't include the light blue, royal blue and red dyed flax top I found or the silk thread (200 yds per spool!) for plying.

We ran into (several times as a matter of fact) two friends from my guild, and Linda was also bitten by the same Shetland fleece vendor. Fred Maier has really nice fleeces. And now that I've let the cat out of the bag, you'll all run to his booth next year and buy him out before I can get there, right?

It was a beautiful weekend for fiber shopping and we all had lovely time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wildflowers from PA to LA

This is a photo-heavy post. Pix were taken during our drive back to Louisiana. I had thought I could post them in order of appearance, north-to-south, but there was a lot of overlap. Some flowers, the pink balloon-type flowers especially, appeared in West Virginia and ran all the way through Alabama. Where possible I recognized the flowers; others are simple 'pink flowers'. If you happen to recognize these spring wildflowers, post a comment. I'd love to know the names of the ones we didn't recognize.

Dogwoods in WV

Dogwoods in WV
Pink Dogwood


Buttercups appear in WV

The pink balloon-type flowers appear in southern VA...



...and the pink flowers continue through AL!

Yep, it exists and I was there. Multiple times!

Tall yellow flowers--Indian paintbrushes??
Carpets of intense purple flowers begin in TN and run through AL

Sometimes the flowers appear in clumps of riotous color
Newly blooming magnolia right outside Husbeast's apartment in LA
And, while not wildflowers, the plantings at Nottaway Plantation are just lovely

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Not much going on this week...

I had to take a road trip 2,000 miles south to help the Husbeast move back home. While I was waiting to change planes, he was informed that he's staying put for another 3 weeks. LeSigh....  So we packed everything except what he'd need for that 3 weeks and drove it home. HOWEVER, since he has to return to that job site, we have to drive another 2,000 miles back and I'll fly home next week. Needless to say, this has put a serious crimp in my plans!

I did manage to get enough singles yarn spun to make up five kits of my new crocheted reversible Tracery Hat. Three kits are available at Darn Yarn Needles and Thread in Harmony, PA; they're the original blue purple color (Amethyst), Aquamarine and Garnet colors.


Aquamarine and Garnet are also available in my Etsy shop for $34, which includes the handspun yarn and pattern. You will still need to purchase about 125 yards of a matching worsted wool to complete the hat--I didn't feel that I should impose my color choices on buyers, and choosing colors is the best part of making something, isn't it?
I also took several days to finish up the second of two entries for Waynesburg Sheep and Wool Festival. They will be going in the mail to the festival next week. I'm also judging the contest, but the wise coordinator (Hi, Judith!) has devised a system whereby everything is judged anonymously. They do such a wonderful job of organizing this festival, and the lamb sandwiches are to die for.
So, having returned 2 days ago, I had lots of stuff to catch up on and finally had time last night and this morning to finish up some Merino/camel down/silk combed top from Blue Moon Fiberarts. This stuff is a dream to spin and I may have to order more in another colorway. I'm still trying to decide if I want to use this yarn for myself or if I will put it in the shop for sale. It's not my colors, but it's SO luscious.

Singles ready to be plied
Yarn plied last week before my travels