Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Drum Carder!!!!!!!

Recently my friend Mary Ellen made reference to the happiness that can come from purchasing something new. Not just anything, but think about when you were a kid and spent months saving up allowance for something really special. I remember spending about a year saving up for my first stereo, and I loved it from the first day I had it. It seems like something changed, either from childhood to adult life, or in our culture since then. Now it's more likely that Ill spending months paying off a previous purchase, instead of saving up for the future. The last thing I saved up for was my spinning wheel about ten years ago.

Unlike many spinner I only own one wheel. I do have some extra flyers, 3 sets of hand cards, and 2 sets of combs, but they were all acquired over 5 years ago, and one of the sets of carders was used and practically free.

So when a very slightly used drum carder came up for sale by a member of my guild, I decided that now might just be the time for a new equipment purchase. I didn't save up, but I'm counting this as my up-coming Christmas money, well spent. After spending about 3 years hand carding wool for my purple sweater set, I think it's high time I treat myself to this lovely time saver.

Behold, the Fancy Kitty Kitten Drum Carder:

new fancy kitty kitten drum carder!!!!

The lovely woman who sold it to me decided that her life was too short for fiber prep, and she could happily spin prepared rovings from now on. I don't blame her--our guild has several very talented dyers who sell their work. I've decided that life is too short for hand carding. Either way, she was so over fiber prep that she gave me a bag of fibers she had planned to blend on the carder, and a partially finished batt.

The thing is that I like dying, and while multicolored rovings look great, and make for very attractive multicolored yarns, they necessitate very simple knitting. What I've discovered about myself is that the knitting is my primary goal, and I prefer to work with simpler yarns that allow for more complex knitting. I've made the mistake of trying to do colorwork or cables with visually complex yarn, and it just becomes a muddy indistinct lump that I spent a lot of hours on. So for me a drum carder makes it possible to buy a fleece and dye sections into related colors I can then card together for more subtle heathers that will still allow cables or lace to dominate visually. Or I can dye for individual skeins of closely related solids for a fair isle.

Of course this will lead to buying fleeces. But it saves me the cost of shipping and processing, which is what I used to do. And did I mention it saves me the time of hand carding to blend colors? Life is too short for hand carding.

So I ran home, put the drum carder on the kitchen table, cranked up my audio book, and started cranking fiber through.

feeding in the wool

I quickly discovered that I had questions, and that none of my spinning books had answers. How do I only own spinning books that refuse to address the drum carder beyond acknowledging it's existence?!?!

For instance, as I worked, there was a lot of fiber staying on the licker-in. I kept trying to remove it and feed it back through, but it kept ending up there. Then I realized that what was on the licker-in looked like this:

nep and short crap from the licker-in

Could it be that unlike hand cards, drum carders separate out the neps and short crap? I checked the internet. The internet had way too much information, but it seemed to confirm that yes, it did separate this stuff out on purpose! So I stopped trying to undo the help the Kitten was offering, and put that crap aside.

I already know from my fleece study experience that I prefer to flick card first, removing as much of the short and tangled wool as I can, before either carding or combing. It seems the same will be wise with the drum carder, and produce the kind of smooth batts I prefer to spin.

Eventually, I made this:

pulling a roving off a drum carder

and this:

pink batt

with the fibers the original owner was so kind to pass along. I was a bit dissatisfied with dizzing the blue roving off the drum. Too much fiber was left behind, so I will probably tear the pink batt into strips or into a roving to spin. It was way too time consuming to diz off some of the roving, and then still have to remove a small thin batt of what was left. It will be much faster to remove everything together as a batt and then deal with it from there.

At this point I got excited and went off on my own. I love to spin cotton, and a little while ago a friend gave me this:

free 14 pound bale of cotton

a bale of cotton. That puppy must weight 20 pounds. I was going to hand card punis from it, but that was going to take the rest of my life. The carding cloth on this Kitten looks just as fine as on my cotton hand cards, and if it all goes to hell I might waste, what, one or two ounces out of 20 pounds?

I didn't really find any guidance on doing this, but I was also too cocky to look. In the name of science, I experimented.

First I fed in the cotton in the usual way:

too much cotton on the licker-in

and about half of it stayed on the licker-in. Not good. So I added it the other way I'd been shown, directly onto the drum as I cranked.

feeding the cotton directly onto the drum

This was much more successful. 3 or 4 times the amount added in only left this:

much less cotton on the licker-in

on the licker-in.

I removed the batt, split it, and recarded in thin layers a few times, just like with the first 2 batts.

Then I had to decide what form the carded cotton should finally take. A batt seemed too big and loose, and like it might fall apart before it ever got to the wheel, so I tried 2 things.

I dizzed off a roving which was generally frustrating. So then I tried rolling the batt around a knitting needle to make a puni, just like I would have done with hand cards.

rolling the cotton off as a puni

I got 4 fairly thick punis from one batt:

4 cotton punis

as opposed to this mess of roving from the other:

cotton pulled off as a roving

I got in a little time on the wheel this morning, and as I suspected the punis are quite nice to spin from, but the roving is a bitch. If I wasn't an experienced cotton spinner I would have thrown the roving out the window! At this point I'll still spin it up just to see what I get, and keep examining how the 2 preparations work. I may try making the punis just a little smaller to compare, but by and large this will now be my go-to for prepping that bale of cotton.

So thanks very much for the drum carder! Now I need more time to knit and spin. I don't suppose I can do that this week instead of putting up the tree, making cookies, and cooking Christmas dinner for both sets of parents? I thought not.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Magic Hat has won me for life!

As you may have noticed, I like beer. I like beer so much that later today I plan to bottle 5 gallons of it. Next weekend I will brew 5 more gallons, which should be ready to drink just in time for Christmas. For the last few years now, I have been using my bonus day off to celebrate "beer Friday" while the rest of America makes me ashamed with their behavior on "black Friday." But I digress.

Even though most of the time the amount of home brew I have on hand can be measured in gallons, I do still buy the occasional beer. I definitely have favorite breweries, and seasonal beers that I look forward to each year. Every year I buy at least 4 12-packs of Magic Hat, each of their 4 seasonal mixes, in order to try all of their "Odd Notion" series. I really like their brewing style, and they use the Odd Notion series to showcase some pretty interesting brews that they've been playing around with. They take risks with this series. Last winter's notion was a pleasingly sour Belgian ale, and if memory serves they've also done a barley ale, some interesting wheats, and various beers with unexpected ingredients. This is a company that regularly brews their summer ale with beet juice, so you know you're in for an interesting and bold treat when they share their experiments! Best of all, after I've tried each new Notion, I can go to the website to find out what it is, give my feedback, and read through the other feedback.

As you can see I look forward to these, so imagine my sadness when I tried the Fall Odd Notion and it was BAD. I don't mean, "not to my taste," or they used an ill-advised ingredient. I mean it had gone off. Now in the long run, this was super instructional, because as a brewer I've read through the various descriptions of what can go wrong with a batch of beer and what each problem tastes like, but it's difficult to truly describe a flavor in words. Now I know one of them!

I contacted Magic Hat because, given their quirky emails (yes, I'm on the mailing list), their willingness to share their experiments, and their desire for customer feed back, I figured they would genuinely like to know that something had gone wrong with a batch.

They responded right away, shared with me what had gone wrong (again, great information for my own brewing) and then offered to comfort me with swag.

Within a week or two, I got a lovely package of cool beer stuff. Behold:

Magic Hat loves me!

Not only am I comforted, but I will be their customer for life!

Most of the time, when a company has truly done me wrong with piss-poor service or shoddy merchandise, I can't even get a decent apology, much less a replacement and a coupon or two for my trouble. I've almost given up complaining. Almost.

With Magic Hat I hadn't even complained. I really was just informing them that something had gotten past them, because if it was one of my brews, I'd want to know, especially if my later batches would also be at risk. Even so, they immediately explained and offered what they called a "care package." How great is that?

So hooray for small businesses, and people who are able to do a job they love, who hang onto their passion for it, and truly give a damn about the people who ultimately use and enjoy their product!

So if you like beer, go pick up some Magic Hat and think of me. The winter Odd Notion is great! I'll be raising a #9 every year on my birthday, 09-09.

Thanks Magic Hat!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Puppet Boots!

I recently made vinyl work boots for a puppet. I actually made the whole outfit, but it's the boots that make me jump up and down on the inside. I made them at work. I was not screwing around, making puppet work boots was in fact what I was getting paid for.

puppet boots!

puppet work boot

Binky in his costume

I love my job.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dear Internet Trolling Robots

I love robots, I really do. I read stories about you. I watch movies about you. I cry at the end of The Iron Giant every single time. I made a beer and called it "Benderbrau" because Bender did in an episode of Futurama. I've known the rules of robotics by heart since I was 9, see:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or by inaction allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by a human unless that order conflicts with the first law.
  3. A robot must not allow itself to come to harm unless doing so conflicts with the first or second law.

But, internet trolling robots, you need to respect that this is a (mostly) knitting blog. I support robots knitting and knitting robots. I encourage on topic comments. If any knitting robot has comments, questions, or experiences to share, by all means do. If anyone who is knitting a robot wants to discuss their project, especially whether circuit boards function better in ribbing or lace, by all means share.

But robots peddling viagra? You are not welcome. That will never be an on topic comment on this blog. I'm terrified to think what happens when a robot takes any such medication. Neither do I need internet trolling robots stopping here to share information on how to chat online with naked foreign women. Again, why would you be interested in such things?

So this is a direct order, from a human, to all robots: Do not post comments here that are off topic, or that you wrote late at night after your english language circuits had shut down for routine maintanance. Do not start with badly worded compliments to my blog, even if you carefully inserted the 4 most frequently occuring words and tags, only to continue with an add for "male enhancement." Not only is this off topic, it's not what knitters are looking for on the internet. It may be what everyone else is looking for on the internet, but not us. What we're looking for is a pattern for a hat that fits a 9 month old and is covered in bunnies, or a good source for polwarth wool that can ship tomorrow, or an answer to whether or not it's a good idea to knit lace in 100% alpaca. When we see naked ladies online we feel bad for them and cast on a sweater.

You have been ordered. From now on no robot may post any off topic comment here unless doing so prevents a human from coming to harm. Even so, it will be deleted.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Spinners guild reveals reasons ‘why ’

This was a really nice article published in the local "Bee." Unlike the Buffalo News reporter who interviewed many of the same people and got much of the information wrong, Naomi Spencer was really lovely and attentive, and wrote an accurate, interesting, and articulate article about our local spinning guild.

Spinners guild reveals reasons ‘why ’

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Knitting and Beer, What Could Be Better?

I was recently asked, by a very young reporter, how long it takes to make something if you start by spinning the yarn. There are of course 2 answers to the question. There is the answer in hours, and there is the answer in years. Interestingly, these 2 answers do not work out to the same amount of time.

Case in point: I have finally finished my purple sweater set. Upon our third summer together, my friend Rachel looked at me working at my spinning wheel and said "Isn't that the yarn you've been spinning the entire time I've known you?" Lucky for her, I wasn't at a good point to let go
and throw my niddy noddy at her.

finished sweater set!

How many hours did this set take? Well, I started with white roving: 2 pounds of wool and 9 ounces of silk. I spent a day dying the wool in 4 separate shades of purple and painting the silk
in the 4 shades sequentially. The most time consuming part was that I then hand carded the 4 shades of wool into heathered rolags before spinning them. The combination of carding and spinning may have taken as much as 200 hours. It felt like longer. Then I knit 2 sweaters, that probably took about 100 hours (these are hugely estimated numbers). I think I spent about 10 hours making the lovely dorset buttons. So all told that would be 310 hours and a day.

dorset button

How many years did this sweater set take? Well, as best as I can remember I started in the summer of 2002 or 2003 when I bought the wool in Delphi NY. I finished this past June. That's 7 or 8 years to complete a sweater set. Over those years I had 3 different "school year" jobs. We went through 4 costume directors at the Opera. I lived in 4 different cities/towns, had 4 apartments, got married, and bought a house. That's way more than 310 hours and a day.

After finishing in June, I figured I would put the set away until December, but we had such a weird summer that I wore it on July 1st and was quite happy to have it. Since that day it's been over 80 every day.

There have, of course been other projects during that time. In fact, anything on this blog or on
my Ravelry page was made during that time. Plus there's all the other hobbies.

I love when my very different interests in some way intersect, overlap, or inform each other. Like how the garden feeds the rabbits and the rabbits supply the compost that feeds the garden. And the spent grains from brewing feed the compost feeds the hop vine makes beer. Or when Queen sings about relativistic time dilation. Or how when a math/science student takes costume construction I can point out that the balance points on a sleeve head are the 2 points on the curve where the second derivative equals zero. And now I have a new one: a knitted beer label.
This goes way past drinking and reading while knitting for relevant hobby interaction. Check it out:

I'm quite pleased with the result, although I had to save it from an unfortunate earlier stage where the lemon looked like a cupcake. Some of my labels fall flat, but I've made a few in the past year or so that I'm really pleased with. The beer was good too.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I've Finally Done It

After years of planning and writing patterns down and then chickening out, I've finally put up a group of patterns for sale on the internet. Anyone can now knit or crochet a recycled t-shirt rug just like the ones I sell on Etsy and use in my home. You can buy one through the Etsy link in the left side bar, or through Ravelry by clicking this button: Why all the hesitation and procrastination? Well, I hate selling stuff. I still remember everyone who yelled at me when I worked retail, and that was selling stuff whose workmanship or undiscovered mistakes were not my responsibility. Now I'm putting stuff out there that I made. I am now directly responsible to the buyer. The biggest thing that gives me pause about all of this is that I know that some women can be really nasty, especially about buying things and especially about a perceived slight. There are women out there who will try to take down a dyer's entire business because they bought 2 different hand dyed rovings and felt they weren't a close enough match. I don't need that. I'm not sure what's wrong with us as a gender. It seems like a man who felt he hadn't gotten what he paid for would yell once, or punch once, or (in the case of the internet) post one angry comment, and then forget about it and go on with his life. Whereas a woman who feels cheated, at least one of the nastier ones, can spend weeks, months, or years stewing in that emotion and actively working to take down someone's entire business or even their life.
This idea isn't new to me. Look at all the stories of teenage girls whose boyfriend was "stolen." Read "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. No really, go read it. It's a great book. I'll wait here.

* * * * *

That one shows that it's especially bad to cross a rich white southern woman with nothing else to do.

So how did I finally overcome all this adversity and post the damn pattern? Well, I've now sold 8 handmade items on etsy and no one has demanded a refund. Over 30 people have knit the 2 free patterns I posted here on the blog and linked to from Ravelry. A few have asked me questions and all seemed to be able to finish successfully with the answers. One found a mistake in the
pattern and pointed it out in the nicest way possible. No one died. No one even yelled at me. I hate being yelled at by strangers.

So I've taken the plunge. Four people have already marked the pattern as a favorite on Ravelry and 5 have viewed it on Etsy. We'll see if anyone buys.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I work with my hands. My work is delicate, requires great precision, and is often repetitive. Sometimes I spend all of a 12 hour day standing at my cutting table (well, all but lunch, dinner, and breaks). I have known other costume technicians who have gotten repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel or series back problems. I've always made an effort to pay attention to my posture when I work, to switch hands when I can, and to change tasks as much as possible throughout the day because I dread these injuries and the possibility that a serious one could take me away frommy work forever.

So what injury has kept me from typing for 2 months, seriously curtailed my work for a month, and *gasp* kept me from knitting?

Sitting at a damn desk.

I thought sitting down for spells in between the standing to pattern, cut, and teach would only benefit. Little did I know that after 17 years of making costumes it would be managing a shop and spending time at my desk creating class materials, doing committee work, and sending and replying to emails that would finally injure me.

It took the whole summer and lots of careful stretching, but I am fine now. I can knit again, and garden, and type or mouse on my laptop.

Then I went into school yesterday to begin prep for the coming year, sat at my desk for maybe a half hour to make sure all my files had been transferred to my new computer, and replied to maybe 3 emails, and pain shot up my arm.

I won't go back again without the new office chair Chris got for me. The adjust-ability should help as I've been using a straight back wooden chair at my desk for the last 2 years. The desk does not seem to adjust heights so I need to focus on adjusting the chair.

If anyone out there knows something about office ergonomics and what position I should be in at a desk, please send me a link!

Monday, April 26, 2010

This Is Why You Haven't Seen Me For the Last Two Weeks

I've been working overtime for the last two weeks getting the spring dance concert on it's feet. As you may remember, I make all the costumes for Buff State theater and dance productions. Much of this concert is designed by our faculty designer, but you'll see 2 student costume designers as well. There are over 20 students dancing in 7 pieces by 4 choreographers, and man is it fun! I mean, did you know Miles Davis recorded some funk in the 70's? I had no idea. If you're in the area please come see the show; it's well worth it! As you can see from the poster performances are this week, Wednesday through Saturday evening, with one matinee on Saturday. The ticket number is there along the side. Prices are really reasonable and there is a student rate (with proper i.d.)

Come see what I do all day!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Planting Hops For Homegrown Beer

So here's what I wanted to post about my hops:

Hops are not the main ingredient in beer. They're a spice that gives beer the high sharp
bitterness that is a feature of styles like India Pale Ale. Hops don't go as far back in brewing history as water, malt, and yeast do. In fact other spices were used earlier, and still are used by homebrewers and breweries. Hops do have a preservative effect, which is why India Pale Ale, which had to last through a long slow ship ride from England to India, is so much more heavily hopped than most other styles.

This is a hop rhizome of the fuggles variety. Fuggles seemed like a good place to start as it is most common in English Ales and is featured in my annual Great Pumpkin Ale. As you can see, I do everything by the book.

Chris did the heavy work of pounding 5 ft stakes into the ground to support the trellis. Here he's mounting the trellis to the stakes.

I made a hill in front of the trellis and dug a 6" trench down the middle of it (like the book illustration shows), but then I departed from any instructions I've read to add the secret ingredient we add for any new plant, be it plant, root, or seed. We have 3 rabbits working night and day to make this ideal fertilizer. Unlike other manures, it can be added directly to the garden without composting first, so I gathered some up and mixed it into the bottom of the trench.

The root in the trench, new growth pointing more or less up.

The hill covered up again. Grow little hops, grow! Hop vines can get 30 feet long by harvest time, so I'm sure I'll be running twine from the top of our beautiful trellis up to the chimney by July or August, and then doing some of my harvesting from the porch roof.

My Friend Lisa Does Everything First*

A week and a half ago I went to my local homebrew store and ordered a hop rhizome. Then I went to the garden store and bought a trellis. My plan was to spend this weekend installing the trellis and then plant the rhizome as soon as I got it, taking lots of pictures so I could have a record of the first days of this large perennial vine for my sake, and so that I could blog about it.

I got a call on Friday that the rhizome was in, so I could pick it up, put up the trellis, and plant the hops on Saturday, just in time for today's predicted rain.

I woke up before Chris on Saturday morning, so I pulled the laptop into bed with me and went to the blog I always read first, to find that Lisa and Robb just planted their hop vine, and blogged about it on Friday.

Lisa and Robb also bought their house a few months before we did, and put their garden in starting in December, and are about to raise honey bees, which I'd love to do but can't because of a seriously allergic family member. She also started brewing beer a few years before I did.

Man, it's a good thing I like her so much!

*For this rant to work, please ignore the fact that Lisa is older than I am, so is not necessarily doing these things at an earlier stage of her life, and also ignore the fact that Oakland California's growing season starts just a bit earlier than Buffalo New York's. Do go look at her blog, it's great!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Happy Family Rainbow Array

Last month, we had a great time at Raveloe celebrating Chinese new year with the annual Happy Family party. We had great Chinese food which I ate too fast to photograph.

As in other years, we layered fiber, rolled it up like a jelly roll, and cut/ripped it into sections for each of us to take home.

This year we began with the fibers we brought, and then layered Linda's offerings in rainbow order.

I love the way the striation shows at the edges:

This year Linda offered the use of her shop's wildcarder to run the results through in order to make a slightly smoother preparation than previous years. She has challenged us to spin and knit socks with this year's fiber, so a smoother preparations will be great for a less "novel" yarn appropriate for socks.

I made a lumpy singles last time, this year I may ply the yarn either with itself or with a solid like black. Most likely I won't know until I spin and knit some samples.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Signs of Spring

The snow has only just receded, and already we see this:

Every year it is the emerging snow drops that re-assure me that I have truly gotten through another winter without killing myself. Yes, there is a future, and life will return, as will sun and outdoor parties and grilling and homegrown vegetables. The date of Christmas was chosen to supplant a pagan holiday, but how wonderful that the resurrection really did occur in spring. I'm not sure if this is particularly relevant in the holy land (now that I have a passport maybe I can go find out) but man is it significant here!

The receding snow has also uncovered our compost pile in all it's glory.

Given that it has probably spent most of the winter frozen, this is as big as it's been. I keep reading up on compost, but was never convinced that mine was creating the heat I had read about. Well, turning it in 40 degree weather released steam! I am totally in love with my compost pile. In it I see the future. Future rich soil and better healthier veggies from our garden. I think a lot of other people see a giant pile of rabbit turds. I don't mind though, in addition to kitchen scraps and garden waste we've had 3 rabbits working hard all winter to improve our crappy clay soil. And apparently the wild rabbits have been reading gardening books, as they've left quite a lot of their own fertilizer around our loan cultivated rose bush.

Monday, March 01, 2010


This is the most romantic poem ever written by author Tim Pratt. I wish I had written it, especially the verse about time dilation. I think I would replace the verse about Zombies with one about Chris's promise to me that if I'm ever turned into a vampire he will stake me, thus saving my soul. Just ask him, it's up there with whether or not I would want a feeding tube.

Speaking of Chris, he lost an interesting wager last night over the gold medal hockey game. He is now obligated to take a Canadian friend to dinner here in the US, but must do so wearing a team Canada jersey.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Thanks to Christmas money I finally have a new camera. It has way more functions than I've had in the past, so I'll have to spend some quality time with the manual, but even without intensive study, I can take some beautiful pictures.

And let me say, it has been beautiful here lately!

This is the view out our kitchen window:

And out the living room window:

Chris has begun converting most of our backyard into a Japanese style garden. We stained the existing fence and porch (both had been left unfinished) in a color combination inspired by pictures of Japanese interiors and gardens. I absolutely love how those colors and forms look with the pine trees and the artfully applied layer of snow. Under the snow is a kidney shaped area of colored stones and a few areas of plantings, all bordered by large stones or small bricks. It's already a great place to sit around our raised fire pit, and we'll keep adding to it each summer. I plan to install an arbor or trellis in the flower bed just beyond the porch for a hop vine. The hops will be surrounded by the odd combination of roses and yuccas.

California, eat your heart out!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Obscurity in the age of the internet

Every so often I check out how much the internet knows about me by typing my name into a google search. I haven't done this in years, in fact not since getting married and changing my name. For some reason I woke up this morning with the burning desire to find out what the internet says about me--whether I'm living a public or private life. Apparently, I've kept pretty private under my new name, because I found almost nothing about me. In the first half dozen or so pages, Google images only had one image, the watch cap pattern available on this site, and the only web result was a link to my bio at the college for which I work.

Here are the impostors using my name on the internet:

  • a porn actress from Hungary for whom this is most likely a stage name
  • a brush fire in Australia
  • a series of skateboard designs
  • a woman spinning fire (i.e. burning stuff twirling at the ends of chains)
  • and a lovely South African flowering heather

I'm not sure whether I'm disappointed or relieved to not have shown up on rate my professors yet.