July 2007


Once upon a time, I had a blog, and I had a camera. And I had the habit of taking pictures. I would take pictures of anything and everything, and later, I would post some of them and scrap the rest. Then my camera went mad, (I expect it’s senile dementia, actually) and I lost the habit of always having my camera because, really – what was the point? Now here I am trying to write about projects and chickens and whatever, and all I can show you are pictures that look like THIS?


Seriously.

Or blurry overworked pictures of chickens who have usually wandered off to do something else by the time the shutter has got ‘round to clicking?

What good is this?

Yep, that sharp cracking sound you might have heard yesterday was my poor little brain going “snap!” which was immediately followed by the purchase of a new camera. A bright, shiny, functional, more-camera-than-I-know-how-to-use camera. I am happy, because now my colours will look like the colours that objects are in the real world, and I’m sure that with practice I will get the hang of this “focus” thing. Raven is happy because he actually does know how to use a camera, and now he has apertures and lenses and lord knows what all else to play with again.

Not everybody likes my new camera. But knowing that it was new, they were patient with me.

So now I have to re-train myself to take pictures, to carry my camera with me – oh yeah, and to learn how this massive thing actually works. That’d be good too.

First, however, I have to clean my house. And then I have to go up to the studio and work very, very hard, because we really could not afford to buy this camera, and decided to purchase it anyway, mostly based on the “ah, but can we afford not to buy it” sort of argument that everybody knows is completely stupid and only a rationalization for what you want to do. It is true, however, that I sell things on line, and that this will probably work out better if my customers can actually see the things they are buying. That’s the theory, at least. To test it, I have to make some things, take pictures of them, and then try to sell them and see what happens.

This is literally true.  Raven turned around the other day, and SQUEEEKSCREAM he stepped on a bunny.  Or at least kicked it, he isn’t sure at all, it happened so fast.  On minute he was watering a sapling, and the next minute there was a tiny baby bunny running around in tight circles on the ground SQUEEEEKSCREEEEEAMing.   And a Very Angry Mommy Rabbit glaring at him from by the pond.

Raven felt terrible, of course.  Out of the corner of his eye he’d seen one bunny “get away” from the monster (him), running to the back of the property but screaming bunny wasn’t moving much, and Momma bunny was staring and glaring and not coming to help because there was a monster (him).  Full of concern he tried to approach baby bunny, who hopped, slowly but competently towards where its sibling had gone.   When I came out on the patio, Raven was standing there, staring at the pond and willing a bunny to appear with its mother as he now feared they’d got lost, or that baby bunny was lying injured in the tall grass.

Investigation uncovered a rabbit run, just about where the babies had both disappeared, so I’m confident they got back home just fine.  I think Momma was hiding by the pond not to wait for them, but because she was afraid to go home with Raven in the way!

That’s all you get today, folks – I’ll be off to Toronto in half an hour to see my niece! (And I’m not even a little bit awake yet – have to start putting back the coffee with a little more speed and attention.

Right, so having blitzed through the past week in thursday’s post, maybe I can slow down and pick out some details, now. First off, let me just say that I am not in the least blasé about losing two chickens, I just really don’t want to talk about it. Lest ye think I am a callous bitch.

Now then, Here is the story of How I washed my Very Smelly Wool (two bags full, sir!)

The usual Before-I-Tell-This-Story-I-Should-Mention: As usual, I have no idea what I am doing. Or very little idea, anyway. I am wandering through this process guided by some kind of genetic peasant memory, the (sometimes conflicting) advice of fibre gossips, and what I can remember from a book I read once. Thus, purists and People-Who-Know may be shocked and horrified by what I am about to tell you. All I can say is there is yarn at the end of the story, so like it or not, what I did works. Also, um – people who are very tidy and clean, and who buy roving that looks like this weird (but bouncy and fun) stuff Marissa gave me?

should probably stop reading now. The following is not tidy and clean, nor packaged for convenience. You have been warned.

Right! So, as you may remember from the other day, I was the recipient of two bags of smelly fleece, from an unknown breed, care of some guy who raises sheep for meat.


You remember the Sock’s Night Out? Yeah, it started there, expanded to include my father-in-law, got all confusing, and then there was some fleece. Short version, ok.
So. I invented categories for sorting the wool, which basically came down to “wow”, “lumpy”, “eeeeewwww”, and “kinda” with a subcategory of “kinda” tentatively labled “maybe felt”. As much “eeeeewwww” as possible was removed immediately, but for the most part the next stage was dumping the whole mess into the bathtub. This is why:

Yes, my camera does suck, but I assure you it really looked like that. Also it smelled like that. (My husband came in at one point, and I looked up cheerfully and announced “I smell like sheep!” “That’s not all you smell like,” he replied. I refrained from telling him that that is what sheep smell like – I’m still hoping to get a small flock some day, and I didn’t want to hurt my chances.) Are you getting grossed out? Here, look at some nice, clean white silk for a second, that’ll help.

Better? (Hey, I know Yarn Harlot’s tactics work on me!) Shall we continue? Good.

The water in the tub is just warm to the touch, not at all hot. There is some detergent in there too (Actually I did one with detergent and one with soap, because you can’t tell me anything, and I wanted to see. I’m not too concerned about soap residue though, there will be quite a bit more washing and processing before I do any dying on this. I think. Possibly I won’t even dye all of it, although I doubt that.) Note: What I am talking about there is that soap stays in wool and will negatively affect dye-taking later if not washed out very well. Also I think it helps wool to felt.

I put the wool through four successive tubs of rinse water, squishing the water through it but not agitating it. Dru’s vision of a bathtub-sized felt ball was funny, but not desirable.

While the wool soaked I picked out any “eeeeewwww” parts that I missed, as well as any sheepshit, sticks, thistles, bird droppings (one), grass stems and seeds, and matchsticks (six) that were large enough to grab. Anything smaller will be removed at the carding stage.

Here’s a thing from that book I read, and a good reason to be one of those people with all kinds of useless crap lying around collecting dust:

It is better for reasons that should, with all this talk of felt, be obvious, to squeeze the water out of the wool, not wring it. Putting it through this (misnamed) wringer is one way to accomplish that without soaking yourself (too much) (more).

Now, the effect of all that rinsing and wringing in tepid water was that the wool is not actually all that clean. It is acceptable to be in the same room with the wool now, the change is really quite dramatic, but while it is ever so much MORE clean, it is not yet actually VERY clean. This is because I discovered way back at the Hedge Wool that I like “spinning in the grease”. (i.e. leaving the lanolin in and processing more after spinning). Big fan. Ironically, I am also a big fan of DYEING in the wool, and all that hot water is a real good way to remove lanolin, so we’ll be kinda going half/half on this. Hence the me not worrying about the soap much.

Aside: It is amazingly funny (at least to an erstwhile city-dweller) how all the proverbs and folksy sayings turn out to be literally true when you move out to a farm and start doing all this stuff. Like “dyed in the wool”. Or anything at all about chickens. ‘Don’t count before?’ Don’t. ‘Come home to roost?’ They do. ‘Mad as a wet hen?’ Pretty mad. /aside

Now comes the carding part, where all the rest of the crud comes out of the fleece, and the wool actually starts to look fluffy and nice. Here’s a loaded cat brush:

After some brushing:

And here is the rolag, all fluffy and pretty.

I plan to comb the nicest bits, so that the fibres are even more in line, but I will mention here that I always roll across the carder, not down, so my rolags, although small and from cat brushes, are not all jumbled up. (closer to top than to roving). Not having actually known the difference before, it startled me to think that anyone would WANT the fibres jumbled, but that gray stuff I showed you back at the beginning is roving, and it does indeed spin a nice springy yarn, even if it is a bit skinny and weird.

I even started spinning that rolag above, just to show you, but I made the camera work pretty hard today, and I don’t think it’s speaking to me right now. You’ll have to wait for that. In the meantime, here’s that purple mohair I was talking about yesterday:

Well, you can see the color, anyway. And here, for the romantics in the crowd, is a slightly better picture of that dress:

Slightly.

Look at this awful picture:

I think my camera is trying to gaslight me. I don’t know why a tiny piece of seriously outdated technology would have developed such a hate on for me, but there it is. As a result, although I have been “doing stuff” – oh, the stuff I’ve been doing! – I have very little in the way of pictoral evidence.

For example, I got a picture of this bag of (really, really) dirty wool:

but I have no pictures of how much prettier it looks when washed and carded. I’m going to be putting in overtime with the cat brushes, if I don’t break down and buy or make better tech soon, because there are two bags of the stuff. I have no idea what the poundage is, since I don’t actually own a scale that measures more than 500 grams, but it’s two fleeces. I don’t know anything at all about the sheep, they’re not anything special, but it cards up all fluffy and soft – haven’t actually spun any of it yet, which is I know, I know, some kind of newsworthy not-event, but I’ve got three spindles full of stuff going at the moment due to my impulsive spin-whatever-you’ve-got-now-now -now problem combined with some fibre-trading that’s been going on, so I have to get at least one spindle empty before I start on this. That is the rule I made, at least until I have enough orders cleared that I can afford to spend my time generating random stash-fodder!

I’ve been very cheerfully spinning the silk, another job that’s going to take forever, but gosh it feels nice, so although I know there will come an “oh please let this be done” point, right now I’m still really enjoying it.

I did ply the purple mohair with a cotton thread, it wasn’t half as bad as I was expecting it to be. Only one omgitstangling point, and I managed to get out of that before it got too serious. Took a while, but no weeping!

Finished the second pink monkey sock on the road during a sudden and insane trip to Sault St. Marie, Ontario (13 hours there, slept for five hours, grabbed a friend and drove her 13 hours back to our place). Stupid good fun.

Marissa stayed at the farm to take care of the animals, and although one hen died (not her fault in any way, but that sort of thing always seems to happen when I’m not there, which is one of the reasons I hate leaving) two eggs hatched that morning. I had to kill one of the chicks, too, because there was something very wrong with it, and I just couldn’t deal with trying to warm and nurse a sick chick in the house with the dog and (more importantly) cat right now, but then the next morning a miracle chick hatched: The hen had been sitting on it for nearly full term, but she got up and apparently got lost while Marissa was here, and went back to the wrong eggs. She was still broody, so since her eggs were cold, I figured I’d just swap ‘em for some new ones and see how long she’d go, but one of her eggs was cheeping! So I shoved ‘em back under the hen and hoped for the best. Next morning I found she’d wandered off again, but the egg was still chirping. Put her back on again, and three hours later there was a chick in the nest. So we’ve got two new babies, both fine and healthy and very active, as it’s been so by-our-lady hot this week that they don’t really need to spend much time under their mothers.

Hens included for scale.

And for one final terrible picture, the wedding dress is coming along much more nicely than you can tell from this useless shot:


Other than that, Francis the pigeon remembered how to fly and went his own way, the cat is not pregnant (thank goodness) because it’s been too long, she’d be huge by now, and it’s a good thing I’ve got all this stuff to spin because at some point when she manages to dig it out of wherever it is being kept, a friend of Raven’s family is giving me a Loom Of Enormous Proportions. Please let me have the strength to actually warp and use the thing!

“According to an ancient Chinese legend, one day in the year 2640 B.C., Princess Si Ling-chi was sitting under a mulberry tree when a silkworm cocoon fell in her teacup. When she tried to remove it, she noticed that the cocoon had begun to unravel in the hot liquid. She handed the loose end to her maidservant and told her to walk. The servant went out of the princess’s chamber, and into the palace courtyard, and through the palace gates, and out of the Forbidden City, and into the countryside half a mile away before the cocoon ran out. (In the West, this legend would slowly mutate over three millennia, until it became the story of a physicist and an apple. Either way, the meanings are the same: great discoveries, whether of silk or gravity, are always windfalls. They happen to people loafing under trees.)”
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

This may be the most open and honest I have been yet in this blog… except no one will perhaps know, because all my words seem to have gone again. That happens occasionally – it never used to, but then I used to be surrounded by words, constantly writing, researching. Words were everywhere, and I took them completely for granted.

Nowadays most of what I do is either visual or tactile – heck, even when I am working with words it’s still visual – and so sometimes language just goes wandering off, looking for someone who will pay it more attention. Maybe the family up the road is feeding it, I don’t know. The darndest part is, I do some of my best thinking during those times. I discover things and ponder them, and examine other things, and oh, you know: Thinky-stuff. Except without words.

Maybe there are lots of people who are like this all the time, and the only reason I notice at all is that it’s so different for me. The first time it happened I even stopped reading for a month, which had never – literally never happened before. I didn’t forget how, I didn’t even not want to, exactly. I just sort of… forgot to.

I realized that it was happening again on Wednesday. Emily and Dru came for a visit, and the three of us went into Windsor to meet up with Jodi and Peter for supper. (Mmm. Lentils. And that other stuff.) They’d kind of had to drag me out of the house in the first place – and I’m glad they did – but I was feeling a bit off-kilter all evening. I’m not sure how else to put it. These people are brilliant, sincerely: Creative, smart, witty – and I’ve known them for years, and I love them all, and it is wonderful on those sadly now rare occasions when we’re all together. Wednesday was wonderful too, but at the same time I just felt kind of on the wrong plane all evening. I was thinking of Jodi on her porch (it really is a great sitting-porch) and how if I was in the city I would be sitting on my own porch – or hers – and people-watching, and neighbor’s kid visiting, and all that stuff. But I’m out here, and what I see from my (entirely different) porch is bunnies and chickens and the occasional deer. I love it, I wouldn’t change it for the world – but I think it’s changed or is changing me. For the better, I hope. I’ve mentioned that I didn’t used to be very nice.

I have this hope that when Jodi is finally back for good I will see her more. I want to go into the city and sit on her porch and listen to her talk about the neighbors and knit with her. I’m not sure how that’s going to work, what with the farm and the chickens and the Other People’s Stuff, and all those reasons I always hesitate to leave here, but I do go into the city sometimes, and sometimes for not much reason at all, so I would like it if a couple of times a month my reason could be Jodi. And we could talk about fibre in its various forms all day if we wanted to, and no one would complain!

There. Best I could do for now, and I think I just talked my way around whatever point I might have had.   There’s other stuff I’ve been thinking about, but it’s even more on the vague and linguistically-unformed side. I’ll try again later.