Sunday, February 21, 2010

Playing in the Dirt

While it may not seem like I recognize any other pastime besides fiber arts, I am in fact something of a gardener/landscaper. Nothing formal, but I do like to make whatever yard I call my own at the moment a better place for me, for critters, and for the environment. That said, even gardening can have a tie-in to fiber arts, but I'll get to that in a minute.A few months ago, I moved in to a different place. It's a reasonable little rental, with a small front and back yards to play in and a landlady that doesn't really mind me messing with the space. The backyard faces north and has lots of tall trees around it (read: not much sun), and the front yard is itty bitty tiny but faces west and gets a reasonable amount of sun each day.

There is this thing that has always puzzled me about people and their yards. More often than not, a person will decided their yard needs some flowers, go to the nearest place that sells plants, buy some things, and plant them. At no point does the thought seem to enter in to their heads "hmm, will this plant actually thrive where I want it?" And so it was with the last tenants, who seemed to think it would be a fine and dandy idea to plant roses in the backyard where there is no direct sunlight ever. They also planted some asian jasmine, another sun-loving plant, right up against the house facing north where it, too, will get little to no sun.

So, last weekend started the yard recovery. I dug up all of the rose plants in the backyard where they were getting all gangly looking as they reached out for some sun, pruned them, and replanted them in the front yard.

Those roses will be so much happier!

I've never actually planted traditional tea roses like this before. Mostly, I don't find them particularly useful or practical. Birds don't get seeds from them, I don't get food or dye from them, and they are a lot of work. But they are part of the property, so by golly I'm going to make sure they are in a place where they can grow properly! Going back to the thought of useful and practical, dealing with roses isn't the only thing I did in the last week or so in my gardening explosion.

The whole front yard is now mulched with pine bark, and I've got a shiny new Whitney Crabapple tree growing in the container. Mostly it looks like a stick stuck in dirt, but in 2 or 3 years, it's going to have tasty little crabapples. Yum! And what I don't get, the squirrels will be totally happy with. Or, perhaps the other way around - whatever the squirrels don't get, I will be happy with!

Also planted on the other side of the walkway are some herbs that will be fine in partial shade: oregano, lemon balm, catnip, and english thyme.

Such a pretty green, isn't it? I can't wait to see how those herbs do against the house like that! And I planted the catnip near the air vent for the garage. Hopefully the cats, who love to hang out at said air vent, will appreciate the plants too.

No crazy gardener person would be without a compost set up, and I got mine going last weekend. It hasn't quite started to do that compost heating up thing yet, but I'm just happy to have it started. I hated throwing away perfectly good worm and plant food!

And the last bit of work I did in the garden was a raised bed in the one spot in the backyard which gets a few hours of sun. There won't be any tomatoes growing there - not quite enough sun for those babies - but spinach, purple carrots, fava beans, onions, and lettuce should do fine.

Now to tie the last bit in to fiber arts (you know I had to, right?). Next weekend I'll be putting up a 3'x3' raised bed, similar to the one in the picture above but with some willow lathe bordering around it, where I will start to grow some of my own natural dye material. On the list: Dyer's Coreopsis (lovely golds) and Indigo (totally blue, baby). The indigo will actually need a bit of a greenhouse thing to really thrive, so that section of the planter will have some vented plastic over it to make it that much warmer than the rest of the world. I'll also be planting some Hopi Black Dye (green, purple, black) sunflowers along the side fence to see if they'll work in the yard. They'll also feed the local birds, which doubles the pleasure of having them around.

And that's where things stand for now! If I actually manage to grow a few things from seed (I've never been successful at that), I'll post a bit about how that worked. But for now, while my yard settles in to a new routine, I'm going to back to doing some spinning. For the next blog post, I'll be posting about a new spinning wheel - the SpinAway Holiday wheel, scheduled to arrive on Tuesday!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A short piece on plying

The question of plying came up in an online discussion the other day - well, more like the other week - and I had mentioned an experiment I'd done regarding 2- versus 3-ply. Now, it turns out that Ask The Bellwether recently had a much better blog post about this than I can write up - if you are interested in fiber arts and don't read her blog, you really should - but still, a couple of photos I've taken might help further elaborate on what you can expect when plying yarn.

So, thing one. Why ply at all? I can give you all sorts of semi-scientific reasons - balance out your twist, strengthen your yarn, yada yada yada - but really, it's all about your preference. I saw someone at the local weaving guild meeting earlier this week knitting a gorgeous shawl out of unplied ("singles") yarn. So, it really boils down to your own preferences and what you want the yarn for in the first place.

For me, personally, I generally do ply, but sometimes I don't, particularly when I'm after some particular effect in my weaving. I've got some ideas about that I really want to try out in my weaving, but more on that another time. When I do ply my singles, I do either 2- or 3- ply. That is, I twist together either 2 or 3 singles at a time. I prefer 3-ply for its roundness and its technical difficulty - it's just plain harder to get Just Right - but 2-ply is quite nice for knitting or weaving as well.

When I'm spinning just for the fun of it (which is most of the time) I usually spin to about the same twists-per-inch and same thickness. No particular reason why, that's just the most natural thing for me to do. So, with that in mind, it was particularly interesting to see how some of my recent spinning projects turned out. I have a huge amount of natural brown merino (couldn't resist those fleeces!) and so I spun up a big skein of 2-ply, then did it again as 3-ply. The twist is about the same, just because I wasn't trying for anything in particular. The diameter of the singles is also more or less the same. Might have been a bit thicker as I was making up the 2-ply.

Here's the yarn I'm talking about, the 2-ply, the singles, and the 3-ply.

You'll notice the twist on the 3-ply is tighter than the 2-ply. Plying two singles together takes more twist out of the singles than plying three singles together. That means that there is more twist that needs to be balanced when you're doing a 3-ply. So, either spin your singles looser or expect a tighter 3-ply yarn than you'll get out of just a 2-ply!

If you are further interested in this sort of thing, do take a few moments to read the blog post I linked to above. I'll be doing some further experiments over the next few weeks with not just plying, but plying already-plied yarns back on themselves, something known as cabling. Cables are super round yarns and if you can do some crazy things with how the colors blend in a cabled yarn. I have so many ideas for interesting yarns, it's a shame I can't spend more time spinning! Ah well, tomorrow I'll post about what's been distracting me from spinning (and blogging) most recently - my garden!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Shearing that Sheep

OK, how did it get to be so long since I blogged??? Ah, well, in my defense, I can say that while I may not have been productive in my blogging, I have gotten quite a bit done otherwise. In particular, my Master Spinners Level One workbook has been turned in for grading. Assuming it arrives safely to my grader, I should know in a few weeks how I did, and I'll be ready to start Level Two! The plan is to finish Level Two by June, and then start my first in-person level (Level Three) at Fibre Week at Olds College.

Starting with Level Three, all future levels (there are six total) have a week-long in-person component, so it'll be one level a year for the remainder of my participation in the program. If I stick to my schedule, that means I'll be done with the Master Spinners program in 2013.

So, all that said, a blog post wouldn't be complete without photos, so let me direct you to my little photo album of photos taken yesterday at the first day of sheep shearing at Cormo Sheep & Wool of 2010! Not only did I get to apply some of my theoretical knowledge of shearing and skirting based on what I learned in Level One, I and the other assistants got first choice at the new fleeces! I brought home the most gorgeous black cormo hogget fleece...

Without further ado, go enjoy the photos! This Means Ewe!