Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More is More

I had a precious half hour at a Coffee Shop with a friend yesterday. We'd had a particularly uncomfortable run-in with the automated self-service--there's an oxymoron!--checkout machine and I needed some emotional sustenance. So a triple choc muffin with an Easter egg on top was irresistible.

This pic isn't just a confession, nor an excuse to tantalise my readers:
It illustrates a few of my favourite design principles:
  • contrasts: dark and light, neutrals and brights
  • complementary colours (or nearly)--my favourite, blue, set off with a touch of yellow
  • off-centre--I like it better than symmetrical
  • and more is more--one of my favourite cook books calls it "flavour layering". So, if choc is good, double choc is better and triple choc is better again. That makes triple choc with a chocolate egg on top just great!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lace Wing

The smaller the spindle, the finer the yarn I can spin, so what I've been spinning on my tiny Pax spindle is so fine that it could be used as sewing thread. In fact I showed it my friend D who teaches embroidery. She oohed at it's possible use as embroidery thread. The beauty of the 50/50 wool-silk blend is that it spins almost as easily as wool and shines nearly as brightly as silk.

As for me, my favourite use of fine yarn is for lace knitting or crochet. Lace is all about the spaces between the stitches. Of course the yarn and the shape of the stitches is what defines those spaces.

This pic is of a little insect who got caught in the house. I've never looked at a wing in so much detail before . . . and it's strong enough to fly with. I snapped this for a pattern before letting the insect go in the garden.
Of course the insect wing is stiff and I usually want a lovely drape in my lace knitting, though crochet lace is traditionally stiffened in some applications--not that I plan to be limited by traditions!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Flight Report

Here's the fibre I bought to accompany me on my trip. Wool-silk (50/50) hand-dyed in brown-purple. This half is more brown and the other half is more purple, but all of it is gorgeous:I chose this fibre because I figure a little bit of it will go a long way in terms of effect. I can see lots of positive attributes in my tiniest safest spindle of all, but efficiency of production is not one of them!

Here's a pic of the fibre with the little Pax Spindle. I've put a 50 cent piece next to the spindle whorl to give an idea of size--that's an Australian 50 cent piece:
The flight was fine--delays, turbulence . . . who cares! I had my fibre and spindle with me. I wore the little spindle as a shawl pin onto the plane to circumvent any concerns with the XRay machine. Then I found I was sitting next to a member of the airline staff in the plane--on her way home after a day's work. After a moment's hesitation I just went ahead and started spinning. It's more of a hand-spindle than a drop spindle, but it works fine. The first comment I got from my neighbour was, "that's a smart way to get around it!". No-one seemed at all concerned and I'll happily do it again on my next flight.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Turbulence, Beautiful Turbulence!

It will be dark when I fly tonight, so if we hit any turbulence I won't have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty around me and will just have to concentrate on staying in my seat. Last time I flew, though, it was late afternoon. We had to skirt around the edges of a thunder storm and I had a window seat. This is just a little of what I saw: I'm not in the mood to philosophise on the silver lining--or golden-orange lining--behind the black clouds of life, but I hope you enjoy the pics.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Airport Security Pax

I'm making a flying visit to Queensland this weekend. I can't leave until after Weaving class tomorrow evening, and I need to be back in Melbourne early next week. It feels almost as though I'll be spending more time at the airport than with my friends!

I don't much like airports. And being forced to sit without doing any craft work feels like a significant imposition on my personal freedom. Of course, declaring any form of opposition to such security is the last thing I want to do--that's a recipe for trouble. On this trip, though, I will be happy to offer the hand of peace to any airport official, because now I have the tiniest safest drop spindle: Here's my recipe for Airport Security Pax:

  • Take one large coconut shell button and a small "chopstick" closure from the accessories department at my favourite knitting store (it's about half the size of a real chopstick)

  • Carefully shape the two with a stanley knife until they fit together.

  • Add a dab of glue

  • Carve a notch in the side of the button.

  • Shape a hook in the top of the chopstick

  • Allow to settle and adjust as necessary until you develop a suitable balance

  • Add a small amount of suitable fibre, sufficient for the length of your trip.

Enjoy in any airport lounge, plane or other secure location!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Morning After a Dyeing Day

On my drying rack this morning--the results of yesterday's work. I dyed half a dozen skeins in between all the other bits and pieces of the day:
From left to right:
  • the purple multi-brew, full strength;
  • the same pot, after the first skein was done, plus a bit of extra pink;
  • the next three skeins were in the same dye pot with a blue-green-yellow colour combo;
  • the last skein is from the green pot, when the other three skeins were done, plus a bit more sage green

With spinning, quilting, lesson planning and dyeing going on, I was doing a fair bit of running around! When it came to lunch time the kitchen was full of dyepots with rinse water in both sinks plus a bucket on the floor. . . I ate toast:)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fresh from the Pot

I've got a severe case of multi-tasking going today. Spinning and dyeing yarn, while finalising my notes and lesson plan for tonight's quilting class. This skein of yarn just came out of the pot: I love the depth and variation--there are five different coloured dyes in there. Now I've got a pastel shade brewing in that pot with a bit of extra pink thrown in to liven it up.

. . . oops, before my safety conscious friends start sending me messages about the fact that I'm not wearing gloves, this is actually the second rinse--see how clear the water is.


I started my Harmony Week yarn with a picture of beautiful orange roses, but by the time I got to mixing up my colours, I was looking for a much stronger blend. The yarn I've come up with is the harmony of protest marches:
Today will be another day of alternating quilting and spinning. In fact I'm going to need the bright energy captured in this yarn to work through my tasks for the day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Harmony Week Bonus

There was a glitch with the local paper, so I had to go back to the Neighbourhood House this morning to take some more shots of the facade for Harmony Week. But as a bonus, I got to take these shots of beautiful orange roses that had been brought to the House as part of the celebration:

That's one of the great things about the Neighbourhood House--things have a way of growing as more and more people get involved.

I've finished plying up my 100g of sea spray yarn, so I think I'll take these roses as the inspiration for my next skein.

Have You Any Wool

My next consignment to CCCK--the wool shop in Northcote--is well and truly overdue. While I've been going crazy with quilt-making they have been selling a steady trickle of my handspun wool. I spoke with Andrea there yesterday to tidy up my teaching schedule. I'm going to have to fit in at least two more quilting courses this year! But I want to make sure I keep up my knitting and crochet classes too, so I had to do some clever juggling with my calendar. Anyway, Andrea said they could really do with more of my yarn, which is a nice problem to have. So I sat at my spinning wheel a while longer than usual yesterday, and this morning I have this to show: Two bobbins of multi-marle merino in sea-spray colours. I have to do some quilting today, but I'll intersperse it with plying up this wool--both activities can be hard on my muscles if I do them continuously, so hopefully if I alternate the two I'll be ok. There are already a few skeins in the CCCK box, so this will give me a couple more. Then all I have to do is get my paperwork organised. The final quilting class in this course is tomorrow night, so I should be right.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Harmony Day

I spent the morning at Sussex Neighbourhood House, putting up decorations to promote Harmony Day. I even went so far as to paint my fingernails orange in celebration of tolerance and diversity:
. . . don't ask me why orange is the colour for harmony day!
Here's how the front of the House looks now that we're done:

We copied the different people from the Harmony Day poster and made them BIG on the photocopier, then we stuck the paper to the back of different colours of poster board. There's been a bunch of volunteers cutting out figures for the past few weeks. The House looked so good that I picked up the phone and rang the local paper. They're coming with a photographer later this afternoon. So, Happy Harmony Day to you! Oh, by the way, I know its Monday March 23, and the poster says March 21, but the House is open Monday to Friday, so we're spreading the celebration out a bit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Feathered Star Update

V's Feathered Star Quilt came to visit again this afternoon. Here it is on my couch: To be fair, it was V who came to visit this afternoon and her quilt came too. I was glad to see my friend and glad to see the progress on her quilt, since it's visit here only a few weeks ago. It's ready to be quilted! I think the pieced border sets off the star beautifully. I'm only sorry the lovely soft purple is so hard to catch on my camera. Here's another attempt--it works better with less light:

Reverse Psychology

This is the front of the bag in which I've been keeping the Cockatoo Quilt: I made it the day I washed my first fleece. It's a crazy bag and I made it by crazy process of reverse psychology . . .

I'd been warned to prevent felting when I washed my fleece. I'd read that temperature changes and agitation were the main things to avoid. So I was very, very careful. I used lukewarm water to soak the fleece overnight; I handled it gently, and all the time I was anxiously looking out for any signs of felting--not that I really knew what to look out for. By the next afternoon I had a clean, unfelted fleece and a body full of anxious energy.

With the washing safely out of the way, I decided to give vent to some of my pent up energy. I took a few handfuls of fleece and determined to find out what I would need to do to make it felt. I let myself loose on that fleece for an hour or so.
  • I lathered it with soap,
  • I poured boiling water on it,
  • I rubbed it and scrubbed it

. . . I treated it as badly as I knew how . . . and still it hardly felted. But I did feel better. Then I spread the wool roughly over a rectangle of gold coloured fabric, I added scraps of silk and stitched it all down with variegated cotton thread. Another piece of fabric and a ribbon handle and there was my crazy bag. I'm more confident handling fleeces now, but the crazy bag is still lots of fun.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Here's a detail of my Cockatoo Quilt: Since it's hanging around in my work room, I've been thinking over my design process for it. I had originally planned a collection of Australian animals to go in and around the tree. In fact I'd got as far as making patterns for each one. But once I put the cockatoo in place at the top of the tree, that was it. He totally dominated the picture and I decided to let the cockatoo take over. The quilt went from being my "Australian Animals" quilt, to being my "Cockatoo" quilt!

Since then I've got to know a cockatoo--a friend's pet--and his personality just confirms what happened in my quilt. He is bright and cheeky and remarkably intelligent. In fact one thing I'd change if I was re-designing the quilt is the expression in the cockatoo's eye. It could do with a bit more attitude.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Un-finished Object

What is it about quilters and their UFO's ? I pulled this one out of its bag yesterday to show my beginner quilting students. It hasn't had a stitch added for at least six months, so that makes it "officially" a UFO: But I have hopes--aspirations even--of changing its status. All it needs is a row of eucalypt leaves quilted around the last border and I can bind it. Then it will be finished!. I started it, maybe 7 years ago. There are lots of things I would do differently if I were starting it now, but I still like it enough to finish it. So for now it's not going back into its bag. It can just hang around and call me for a while. Hopefully that will spur me on to do that last bit.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Weekend Images

This fern tree grows at the edge of St Kilda Rd, outside the Arts Centre. It surprised me on Sunday on my way to the South Bank Market. Here it is with a backdrop of concert posters: And here's another one growing under the bridge near the foundation stone:
I stopped for a while to take these photos and was amused to see several groups of tourist stop beside me and peer over the rail to see what they might be missing out on! In my quilting classes over the past few weeks I've been challenging the students to think about the ways colours interact. I'm noticing how different the fern trees look here with their different backgrounds. I'm not sure how I might use that observation, but there it is.

Monday, March 16, 2009

And then there were two . . .

I didn't plan to start a family of drop spindles, but it seems to be happening anyway. Not that I'm complaining at all. In fact I'm still rather besotted with this new love in my life. Yesterday I went to South Bank Market to meet Charly and pick up my new baby drop spindle. I'd been keeping a close eye on her blog waiting for the new consignment from Spindlemaker to turn up. I was determined to have an Australian made drop spindle and here it is: You've already met the spindle on the right--I'm still spinning the Finn-cashmere blend on it. On the left is "Myrtle", so called because the whorl is Myrtle wood and the shaft is tiger myrtle. Weighing in at only 23 g, it should help me to spin even finer. I celebrated by buying a hank of Charly's merino-angora blend tops, hand dyed in an incredible pink-purple colour combination.

I'd planned to make a quick visit to the market and proceed to a nearby art gallery, but I was having so much fun seeing all the great offerings and talking to various stall holders about their work that I stayed at the market well into the afternoon. My purse is a bit lighter as a result, but so is my heart, so I'll accept that as a fair trade-off.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Here's my favourite out of yesterday morning's exercises. There are two versions because we threaded the warp with two different threadings:

The precise blue and white contrast makes me think of willow ware or delft blue china.
Just as well I've taken to this, because I was afraid the extra work of fine yarns in 8-shaft might not grab my imagination. I've been more focussed on colour play and textures recently, but I'm enjoying this. Homework is to play with different combinations--that should be fun.

My Morning's Work

I spent the day at the Guild yesterday. It was the second day of the 8-shaft Weaving certificate course. Having prepared our warps, it was time to weave. Here's my morning's work:I was delighted by the blue and white combination. It was the look I was after when I chose the natural coloured warp yarn, but it turned out even better than I'd hoped. I can now see the benefit of all that extra effort in threading because that's where the detail comes from, especially in the example at the top of the pic--I'll try to get a macro shot of that so you can really see the pattern.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Consistent rain today! The Guild rooms are in an old scout hall. We could hardly hear each other this morning for the sound of rain on the tin roof. A couple of us broke into pigin-sign language, but I can only finger spell and A seems to only know a few words:) We were so happy to hear the rain.
I took this shot from inside a cafe on Sydney Rd, Brunswick . . . maybe I should just have a weekly Saturday cafe shot. Oh, I also did lots of weaving, but more on that later.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Home Brew

These two skeins of wool have been brewing away with their dyes since Monday:
They should well and truly be ready to be rinsed out today--if I can find the time and clear the sink. You can see the beauty of this cold pad batch dye system though, in that the dye hasn't moved. That means I can safely leave them as long as I like. If I don't get to them today it will be Sunday before I get another chance to look at them. And the dye will still be where I put it. It will be fun to see how the patterning has turned out.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Drop Spindle Invitation

I got a quick note from CCCK last night raising the possibility of running lessons there on making a CD drop spindle and starting to spin with it. I'm hoping it will work out. The timing is great: my CD drop spindles are working, I have all the supplies worked out and I'm loving my drop spindling--it has become my constant companion. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

8-shaft Twill Sampler

Here's my first project for this year's Weaving Certificate threaded and ready to go: This is pretty much my view of it from where I stand to weave, except that I've put the tape measure in to give the scale. That's 8-inches by the way. Weavers, like quilters, seem to mostly stick to the imperial measurements. This is set at 24 ends per inch. That's 8 x 24 + 2 selvedge threads = 194 warp threads.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Catching Up

This bottle of dye has been taking up space in my fridge for more than a month. It's the leftover from my "cold pad batch" of the January heat wave. I dyed four balls of lambswool at the time and had two balls left. I'm not expecting any more heat waves this season. Thankfully the weather has changed and we're in for a run of days in the mid-twenties. But I really don't want dye hanging around in my fridge until next summer. So, while my friend Anna was here yesterday afternoon, I skeined up the last couple of balls of wool, added the dye and left them to do their thing. Meanwhile Anna was figuring out her new camera, so we got this shot of the dye bottle ready for action.

Part of the beauty of this type of dye is that it's so forgiving. On a hot day, it will be ready to wash out sooner, in cold weather I can just leave it for a few days until it's ready. So I got to catch up with a friend and catch up with some of my dyeing. That's two less balls of wool floating around on my table waiting to be dealt with, and good company for the afternoon.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Hug by Any other Name

I wore this little darling on Saturday: I'd had a bad night and felt rather vulnerable. What's more it's been unusually cold the last few mornings. I'm not quite sure what to call it . . . I guess it's a little capelet really. I've knitted it from my handspun merino-silk yarn--one of the First Editions colour blends. The design is a simple stocking stitch circle with garter stitch bands and yarn-over increases. I love it. It's warm and light and soft and easy to wear. It's one of those pieces that is sure to improve my day every time I wear it.

I need to sit down with a ruler, pen and piece of paper, to measure and write down my pattern, so I can provide it to the growing list of people who have asked for it. Like so many of my experiments, I made it up as I went along. Meanwhile it's nice just to enjoy the textile hug.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


If my word for the day yesterday was, "irresistible", today's word is "imperceptible". That's my word for the growth of my "bushfire blanket". I'm averaging a row a day. At 2 1/2 metres per row, that's still a fair bit of crochet, given that this is my armchair project. Some days, like today, I sit for a bit longer and get several rows done. Other days I just spare it a glance and get on with something else.

Here's how it looks today. It is growing slowly: My approach to the colours combinations is what I call, "regularly irregular". I have five colours to work with. Of those five colours, three are limited quantities and two are more than adequate. Of course, I don't have the same quantities of the three limited colours. That would make it too easy! I guess some people would calculate out a quantity of yarn per row and calculate a pattern to be sure it was all going to work out right in the end. That's not my approach to this sort of project. Instead I just keep varying the colour combinations. I keep an eye on the approximate proportions of colours, according to what I have available and I keep an overall rough pattern of colours to give a sense of unity. That way I can adjust the colour combinations as the project develops and keep my options open. At the moment I'm gradually working in more of the grey and caramel alpaca colours, because these are the ones I have most of. That will allow me to space out the chocolate alpaca and blue wool mohair in the centre of the blanket. The fifth colour is a variation on the caramel--just slightly lighter and not quite as creamy--so I'm just using enough of it to make sure it looks as if it's not an afterthought.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Simply Irresistable!

I came home from class today with an extra 2 kilos of fleece. Beautiful, fine merino fleece bought from the grower. It looks like this:
In fact it looks better than the pic, and I can't begin to describe how it feels or smells, or, or, or . . .
I could say,
  • I'd had a bad night
  • it was sooooo soft
  • my resistance was down
  • I had to buy it

I could say,

  • I'd bonded with the fleece after hearing and seeing its characteristics up close
  • I know exactly where it came from and the quality of its breeding
  • it's a beautiful fleece
  • I had to buy it

I could say,

  • I'd decided to use fine merino for my end of year project
  • this is a 2 kilo lot of consistent quality, enough for sampling and my final product
  • this puts me ahead of schedule
  • I had to buy it

Whatever I say, the truth is, it was simply irresistable . . . I bought it!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Now What?

Well, this blog was intended to keep me honest and motivated, while perhaps entertaining you, the reader . . . and I guess it's doing its job!

The question of "now what are you going to do with that skein?" is the obvious one. And here's a really quick answer, because I'm supposed to be leaving for my computer course in under a minute, but I'm just brewing myself one more cup of coffee!

Here are the options
  1. leave it hanging around the house as a "pet" for a bit and see what happens
  2. put it in the "good intentions box"--NB, that's not the same as the "too hard basket" even though there may well be similarities.
  3. pull out the calculator, put on my thinking cap and see how far it will go in a given weaving project.
So, just to pick up the sense of that, here's my calculator in my "good intentions box" and I'm off.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Here's What I Got

Here's a skein from yesterday morning's experiment: I'm happy with the texture and colour combination. I'd like to try with a bit more of the very pale green colour--the one you can hardly see. The major difficulty with what I produced is that it's very fragile. I don't think I'd dare knit with it, but I'd like to try it in some weaving. The reason it's so fragile is that the commercial yarn I used to ply it is extremely fine, and being wool, it's not very strong. Also the process of plying to get the bubbly texture that I wanted took most of the twist out of the marle spun single. So I'm relying on the fine wool to provide the strength and it's not really up to it. If I'd used silk to ply with--I did consider it--I would have more strength for the same thickness of yarn. Or I could have doubled the fine wool yarn. That's ok by me. It was an experiment and that's what experiments are for. I have another 50 g of this colour combination in tops that I can play with.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Colour Mixing--Multi-Marle

Remember this . . .

. . . a photo I took in January of a tree in the rain. I was drawn to the freshness of the colours and the texture of the creamy white blossoms. I took that idea and chose some coloured tops: three shades of green and a natural white. I stripped down the tops and laid them side by side ready to spin:
This is my multi-marle approach to colour mixing. Here's how it looks on the bobbin today.
It's quite high twist, so I'm thinking of plying it back onto a fine commercial wool yarn. I hope the texture as well as the colour combination will pick up some of my feeling about the photo.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Badge of Office

As a textile artist I'm fascinated by the ways different trades and occupations have identified themselves in years past. People of all sorts have found ways to tell the world , "this is what I do" by means of their clothing and accessories.

Often the Twenty-first Century version of that occupational identification involves a lanyard. So, as I set out to thread my loom ready to start a new year of weaving, here's my lanyard:

Blue cord to go around my neck, to set off my eyes and make me smile:). The thread snips are extremely handy and the way the spring is set up, they hold themselves in to the little cap which keeps them secure. The other accessory is to measure the thickness of my yarn.

There are much more conventional and sleek gadgets, for measuring yarn thickness, but I do like my personal take on it. I've carved an exact inch and two inch length out of a small eucalypt branch. To plan my weaving I need to know how many times the width of the yarn will fit into a one inch length. The measurement is called "wraps per inch" or wpi. The wpi of the yarn allows me to calculate how many warp threads I need per inch of weaving so that the fabric will behave the way I want it to. Likewise when I'm spinning the same measurement gives me a good idea of what sort of yarn I'm producing. So I keep this little carved stick hanging around my neck. I like to think of it as my "badge of office".

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Eight Shaft Weaving

Weaving Certificate, Year 2, Lesson 1: Introduction to Multi-Shaft Weaving:
Eight shafts, count them: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!

I'm starting to get to know my new loom. It's just like the one I used last year, except of course, being made individually by hand, it's not just like the one I used last year. I was delighted to discover that the levers that lift the shafts have turned out with different shades and textures of wood.

The theory topic for yesterday morning was "Introduction to Multi-shaft Weaving". Apparently multi-shaft, by definition, and contrary to numerical logic, means more than 4. This year we will be working with 8 shafts. The take home message, as far as I could gather, was, "expect more complexity". We will also be working with finer yarns than we did last year. So there are a few challenges to look forward to.