Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It's not fiber, but it's good

Potato soup

4 T of butter ( I used a european-style goat butter, since me and cows don't get along)
4 large leeks (white and pale green parts sliced thin, with the dark green parts saved for stock)
24 oz of fingerling potatoes, cut in to 1" chunks (really, any potatoes will do, but these were straight out of my CSA box)
1 tsp roasted minced garlic
1 tsp thyme
5 c of chicken stock (4 c from the store and 1 c from some I made and had stored in the freezer - darker and tastier and even that little bit made a huge difference to the overall flavor of the soup!)

1 - Melt butter in your soup pot and add leeks, stirring to coat; cover and cook for about 10 minutes or until leeks are tender
2 - Add potatoes and garlic and cook until potatoes are soft
3 - Add chicken stock and cook for about 30 minutes
4 - Use an immersion blender or food processor to make into a more even consistency, or be impatient and just eat as is! I kinda like it a bit chunky, so I'll use the blender but not worry about super smooth.

I'll also occasionally add sliced carrots or other random veggie for vitamins and interest.

And with that, I promise I'll get some posts out here soon, as soon as I sort out my international travel schedule. This week, Taipei. December, its back to Amsterdam. vroooooooOOOOoom

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Plum tickled

Something blog-worthy happened this morning. I was pummeled by plums. Plums from the plum trees growing in my backyard. Folks who have been reading my blog for a while might remember some of the photos I posted back in February of the tortured, poorly pruned trees in the backyard. Back then, I thought all the trees in the yard were apple trees. Little did I know the summer was going to usher in a veritable fruit salad of trees!

So, back to being pummeled by plums. I figured out a few weeks ago that a some of the trees back there were plum trees, and I figured out a bit before that that at least one tree was a pear tree. As the plums turned to a lovely orangey-purple, I was gently picking them with one of those long orchard fruit picker thingies. I was trying to catch only the ones ready to just drop, rather than pull them off before they were ready. I picked close to two dozen yesterday that way, and figured I'd do a quick trip back there this morning to see if any more had come ripe. I didn't bring any tools, I just figured I'd gently shake a branch or two and see if any came off.

My goodness, did I get plums! This was today's harvest, and there are plenty more that will come ripe in a day or two.
And they are as sweet as they are pretty.

There's more than one kind of plum out there, too, tho' I don't recognize the others and the local Master Gardener's suggest they might need watering to actually do the right thing with the maturing fruit.

Here's a shot from some of the younger trees...

But wait, there's more!

Apples! Lots and LOTS of apples!

I am told that the local lore has these as gravensteins, but I don't have any idea what a gravenstein looks like, so who knows? I am joining the local fruit growers club - how could I not, with this yard? - and will bring a ripe apple to the next meeting to see if someone can tell me what I have.

Did I mention, LOTS of apples? Or at least, more than I've ever had before (never having lived on land with an orchard) and certainly more than I know what to do with. Fortunately, living in a semi-rural community as I do, I know several people who will come help pick and can and enjoy the fruits of the yard. This won't go to waste.

When it was time to prune, I didn't have the time and energy to get to all the trees back there, but the four I focused on - two of the plums and two of the apples - are just bursting with fruit. The trees the farthest away from the house did not get pruned much, and their fruit output is pretty low as far as I can tell. But come February, I'm going to get serious about pruning these lovely things and see what I get next harvest.

The pear tree is huge, and not the healthiest tree on the lot. I'm a bit worried about it, but if even a third of the pears come ripe and edible, I'm going to be drowning in pears.

Anyone know what kind of pear that is?

It needs some professional help, I think. Or at least someone with a tall ladder to help thin out the upper parts!

But wait, there is still more! One of the banes of the local orchard is the invasion of blackberries. Remember my goat project I mentioned a while ago? I'm still researching the idea, and it's in no small part to help control the blackberry. I haven't gotten it under control, but at least at the moment, that just means a bit more fruit to go in to the jam process that will start today.

And if all this was not enough, would anyone like some fennel?

I do love living here. This winter, I really need to get a garden started to have more fun with this kind of thing. Green beans, mmmmmmm.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Black Sheep Gathering and Cookies

Black Sheep Gathering: where crazy people go to play with wool. Try it, you'll like it.

For various reasons discussed by sociologists, anthropologists, and other people who are concerned with such things, fiber artists (particularly in the US, quite possibly in many other cultures these days) are usually female. I am not a sociologist, anthropologist, or a person who is particularly concerned with such things, except when it comes to planning for bringing food to a fiber event.

I just came back from a lovely weekend at the Black Sheep Gathering, and before I left, I committed myself to baking cookies. This was a Big Deal 'cause, think about it: we're talking an event with hundreds of (mostly female) fiber artists, a dozen or more I know personally, all high on the wool fumes from the fleeces and spinning fibers and yarns around us, totally having a day or weekend away from the world. This translates in to potentially massive cookie consumption, especially for the ones with chocolate in them. I know how to make three kinds of cookies particularly well, two of which handle the rigors of travel with grace, style, and minimal structural integrity issues.

I ended up with close to 90 cookies when I finished baking the Friday we left for BSG. I had about 80 by the time we got to the highway. I felt this was a good sign that the cookies would be considered an acceptable offering to the fiber goddesses. And I was right.

By the end of the weekend, there were four cookies left. I think there were four left because I hid some in my bag to have on the drive back up to Seattle, and we were too tired to finish them off (but they made a great breakfast this morning). Enough folks had their eyes roll back in to their heads over the nom-iness of the cookies that this whole blog post is mostly to get the interested parties the recipes.

For those of you who favored the chocolate chip cookies, that recipe is available on-line over at Gluten-Free Girl's blog. I used goat butter in place of cow butter (no cow dairy for me) and some other minor modifications to the flours used, but that recipe as it stands won't do you wrong.

For those of you who not only want but NEED the almond cookie recipe, that's so simple!

Oven = 375F

1 lb of almond meal (you can either buy almond meal or buy a pound of raw almonds and grind them down as fine as you can. If it's not as fine as commercial almond meal, don't worry about it. Cookies still turn out great.)
1/2 lb fine sugar (bakers sugar or confectioner's sugar, whichever is easier for you to acquire)
2/3 c bitter orange blossom water OR rose water
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t almond extract

mix all that up in a bowl. You can use a blender or just a fork, it's up to you. Have a beaten egg and sesame seeds on hand. Scoop up about a tablespoon of the mixture, roll it in to a fat tube, dip one side in the egg, then the sesame seeds, then put it on the cookie sheet (parchment paper - you really want parchment paper to line the cookie sheet), stretch it out a bit and try to make sure it's fairly uniform in thickness as you do.

Here's the closet thing to an "interesting" part to this recipe. I've cooked this in a couple of different ovens, and the time for cookie varies widely. At home, in my cheap electric oven, we're looking at 20 minutes or so. At a friends house in their nice gas oven, we were looking more at 30 minutes. Your mileage will vary so pay attention! When they get lightly brown like light toast, they are done.

So of course there was more to BSG than just the food. There was fleece and sheep and goats and yarn and very cool people. We had show and tell, many folks admiring my handwoven scarves, the gorgeous handknits all around, and some great discussion on the fine art of batt making. Many of the folks I got to talk to will also be attending Sock Summit in Portland, Oregon next month. More crazy fiber fun, and yes, I will bake cookies.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Some of you had a chance to follow along my Icelandic photo journal and so know everything I'm about to say, but for the rest of you...

I just got back from a fantastic 10-day trip to Iceland! The first 7 days were all about me, and the last bit was the conference that paid my airfare to the country. I took well over 100 pictures a day for much of the vacation, and I've posted them, photo journal style, on Google's Picasa.

In the album, you'll see a sheep or two (or three. Possibly fifty.), some spinning wheels, mules, and possibly jennies, waterfalls, a geysir, a continental rift, and all sorts of other things.

I've got a bit to do to catch up at home, like get something new on the loom, post more items to my Artfire shop, finish some lace I'm knitting, and do quite a bit of spinning to eat in to this backlog of fiber around my house. But while I'm doing that, you can enjoy the photos!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A "What Am I Thinking" Moment

A few months ago, my sweetheart and I started renting a lovely little house with probably about an acre of land, including an old (sadly neglected) apple orchard. Being where we are in the world, we get plenty of water and just enough sunlight that the grass and wild blackberry grow like they have absolutely nothing better to do. OK, so they probably don't have anything better to do. Work with me on the mental image and let's move on.

Once spring sprang (sprung? sproinged? is springing?) it became painfully obvious that a manual reel mower cannot defeat the acre of grass and blackberry in the orchard. Yes, we tried it, and no, it didn't work. It was a rather optimistic idea evolving out of the fact that we need some exercise and that we've had to move every year for the past 4 years and don't want to buy more equipment like a big mower.

Which leads to the possibly extended moment of insanity. Did you know that it costs about the same amount to house 3 cute little Pygora goats with their lovely spinnable fiber as it does to hire someone with a large mower and an annual aerator and appropriate fertilizer per year? Amazing, isn't it.

And they're so cute. Did I mention that? Some have fiber much like cashmere. Others have fiber much like fine mohair.

Do a Google Image search on Pygora. You will see the cutness.

In any case, I'm playing with the idea. My sweetheart is fine with it as long as he has nothing to actually do with the critters. Now, to see what the landlady has to say about it...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fallen off the planet (again)

Goodness, folks, you must be thinking I've given up fiber hobbies and become a moth or something! Fortunately, no, I've just been very busy. Moving to a new part of the country, moving my online shop and changing its name, pushing to explore new colors and patterns in weaving (i.e. weave more scarves and things), working on my lace knitting (new spin on one of my fiber hobbies), it's all just been wild!

And all of this doesn't mention my fabulous Other Life where I am a contractor doing interesting Internet things. That contract is sending me to present at a conference in Iceland in less than 2 weeks! I have already checked out the possibility of bringing a lovely Icelandic fleece home, and have on my souvenir list a sweater, mittens, and slippers.

It's a lot to keep a girl busy. And since I wasn't busy enough, and given how much I've been weaving, I've decided to split my blogging life in half, with a new blog dedicated just to my weaving entertainments, and this blog for all the rest of my fiber hobbies. Follow what ye will, I will do my best to post a bit more frequently!

And now, back to preparing for my Iceland trip and all the fibery-goodness possibilities in store for me...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Learned something new - Tracking

As I was pondering my next weaving tips and tricks post, I found myself entirely distracted on one side by a massive pruning effort of some old apple trees in my back yard and on the other side by what I thought would be a quick, mostly harmless scarf woven on a rigid heddle loom while I was helping out with a beginner weaving class.

Some of you may be more interested in the pruning than the weaving, which is totally fair. I am pretty interested in the pruning, too, particularly since we're talking some serious pain and effort on my part to start the repair job on a REALLY BAD tree topping job someone did on those trees a few years ago, and then left them to go wild. However, we'll get to that later.

For now, I wanted to show you a thing I hadn't actually encountered before in my weaving, and that's a thing called tracking. This is what can happen when you work with a yarn that is more tightly twisted than the fiber itself would prefer. I'm not going to just say "a high-twist yarn" 'cause I could have sworn the mohair I was working with wasn't particularly high-twist. But, you know what? It was twisted more than mohair wanted, and so when it was woven up and washed, it did this wiggle thing in the fabric, like it was finally trying to get comfortable along with all its other thready friends.

So, what started as a simple plain weave fabric which looked kinda like this (but not this exact one - the "before" picture for the scarf that did the tracking did not come out)...

came out looking like this after wet finishing...

It looks interesting! Complex! Fascinating! And it's just plain weave with a worsted-weight mohair yarn. I can see an exploration of tracking in my future. If you have a piece that did something like this, and you didn't know why, it's the yarn, the fiber, and the amount of twist that does the deed.

And as for pruning, please. If you love the tree, do NOT do this to it:

See all those stubby limbs, like someone decided the tree should only be So Tall and just lopped off the top? Yeah. Don't do that. And the only reason you can even see that is because I spent 4 hours trimming all the emergency sprouts and leaders the tree sent up to try and recover from the event.

Anywho, that's all I've got for today! This week is the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat in Tacoma, WA and I'm there helping Morgaine of Carolina Homespun fame and Judith MacKenzie. I'll also be hosting a Weavolution Meet-up on Friday. It's going to be a Very Busy Week, but fun! So much to learn and do, it's a great problem to have.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No-pain weaving 101 - The Studio

As I said in my last post, I'm no Laura Fry, but sometimes different ways of explaining the same thing can help get through to more people. So here's my attempt to help readers of this blog think about weaving and what might be causing them to be in some discomfort while they weave. And if you are NOT in any discomfort, I sure hope you comment on these posts and offer your own tips and tricks! Links to your blogs where you talk about these kinds of things are more than welcome.

I thought I might start with the studio space. Some folks have an entire yurt dedicated to their studio space. Some folks have the corner of a room. Whatever your space, however, there are a few things you should think about when you're making this the best place possible for you get down and funky with your weavin' self.

As you can see, I'm in the "corner of a room" category, which means I had to be pretty ferocious in how I organized my space. First and foremost - lighting. If you can't see what you're doing, you're going to squint, you're going to crouch closer, you're going to contort yourself to try and make things do what you want them to do. That said, more lighting does not mean better lighting. Frankly, with my eyes, I find too much contrast to be seriously uncomfortable. My light has to balance out, to come from more than one direction. So, you can see I've got a couple of windows there (lovely windows, too, I like them) but I also have a lamp in the corner and overhead lights above the door. Lights are on when I'm working at the loom!

I have used a headlamp when I'm threading, and that's a great tool when you can't control your lighting. I find them really useful when I'm going to a weaving class and can't be sure I can control the lighting. But at home, good quality light all around is the thing.

So, light lecture done. Play with lamps, ones that bounce light off other surfaces and don't aim the light like you're being interrogated at the loom. Seeing is believing.

Next bit o' lecture: space around your loom. This one was really difficult for me, 'cause I wanted ALL my weaving stuff surrounding me. Well, too bad, sister, 'cause there just is not enough room for all my stuff, my loom, and me. When there isn't enough space to move freely around the loom, getting a warp on is a royal pain in the butt, shoulders, and other body parts. You end up having to contort yourself to get to pieces and parts and, well, ask me how I know. So, I ended up putting a bunch of things in storage boxes under my bed. I looked at any unused space in the house, like small bookshelves in the dining room, that could handle some of my stuff without turning everything in to an unpleasant mess.

One cool tool I have in there probably looks more decorative than anything else, but it's really awesome. That's the garment rack the warping board is hanging on. A garment rack is a GREAT weaving tool, did you know that? It has wheels so it can be moved around - stored against a wall when not in use - and it's for more than just hanging things. When you are beaming your warp - getting it wrapped tightly on the back - you can hang it over the top of a garment rack, tie a weight to it, and suddenly you have a yard or more of tight warp that can just roll on that back beam. Look up "warping valet" or "warping trapeze". It's da bomb.

So, light and space. Important stuff. Now let's look at a couple of really little things which just made life simpler. First, what do you do with two sided sticky tape and an old measuring tape?

Well, what I did was tape it to my beater so I never have to figure out where the center of the reed is, whether the reed itself is centered or not, how much draw-in I've got going on at any given time. Some folks have found fabric store sticky tape that will work for this. You may have found something else. I found an old measuring tape. You get the idea - don't be afraid to modify your loom if it is going to make your life easier when weaving!

Last big thing. What are you sitting on? Are you weaving at a floor loom in your kitchen chair? Tell me no. Or, if you can't tell me know, tell me that you're going to go out RIGHT NOW and get an adjustable stool, a bench, something way taller than your standard kitchen chair! Let me put it this way. See your elbows? OK, no, you probably don't see your own elbows, but I'm going to assume you know where they are at any given time. Did you know your elbows are scared of the loom? Mine sure are, and if they are close to touching the loom while I'm weaving, they'll try and move up. Now, being attached and all, they can't move up without the shoulders helping out, and thus my shoulders end up just a wee bit tight. Tense. And after an hour of weaving, very very tired of trying to have a conversation with my ears. So, make sure whatever is sitting on allows you to have your elbows not close to rubbing the loom, so that in turn your shoulders can relax. Your ears really don't want to hear what your shoulders have to say, since all your shoulders are doing at that point is complaining.

So, that's the big things I've got for you about studio space set up. A few other miscellaneous things which may or may not work for you - have a small tray or something to keep your most critical tools nearby as you weave. A rolling basket-table can be good. I have a little trap that hooks on the front of my loom for good stuff. And if you are weaving off several things on one warp, have you tried cheap paper register tape to keep track of how far you've woven? Doesn't impact the cloth as it's being wound on the front beam, its cheap, and it takes out guess work. I am doing that for now, tho' I really like Laura's idea about having a different color cloth ribbon for each of the common lengths she weaves. She keeps it pinned on and just moves the pin so that the ribbon doesn't wrap on the front beam as she is weaving. Quite reusable, and you don't have to guess if you're doing a 2 yard scarf or a 3 yard length of fabric for a jacket.

I hope that helps some of you! In future blog posts, I'll try to do something about threading and sleying, and about winding on the warp.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Efficiently Weaving

Wait, November? My last post was in November? Sheesh! Well, I suppose that's what picking up and moving 1000 miles will do to a person. Throws the whole schedule in to disarray. Add some traveling to that for work and fiber fun, and, well, yeah. I haven't posted since November. Bad girl, no biscuit. But look, a whole new studio layout! (It needs work - now you know what I'll be doing today.)

But just because I didn't post doesn't mean I have not been a busy fiber person! In fact, I just got back from a week at the John C Campbell Folk School where I took an advanced weaving class with Laura Fry. The class was not about new techniques in weaving, new weaving structures, or anything like that. Instead, it was about how to move and work more efficiently so that at the end of the day, you a) did not hurt, and b) produced more lovely fabric. In the past, I have generally maxed out at about 3 scarves a week, and often that much left me with back spasms and tension headaches like nobody's business. In the week of class with Laura, 5 days of class including 1 day of lecture, I managed to make 2 full length scarves and three good-sized handtowels in various twill patterns, with none of the damage I was doing to myself before. w00t, I say, w00t!

I finally learned how to warp my loom from back-to-front, which I'd been a little anxious about since it seemed to require more tools than my usual front-to-back (Laura's method doesn't require anything I don't already have in my studio). I learned how to use a weight and a loom valet to making beaming the warp easier. I learned how to lash on the warp and tension it that way rather than do the gazillion little knots, each individually tensioned. I learned a new way to hold the threads and threading hook for greater ease of movement and faster threading and sleying. I learned to make a smiley face with my body as I threw the shuttle, rather than twisting from side to side. I learned to use a reed at the bottom of my warping board to control the threads coming off the cones as I measured a warp. I learned all sorts of things about properly wet finishing fabric. My brain almost, but not quite, exploded. In a good way.

So, here's what I am thinking of doing. As I start up new weaving projects over the next few weeks, I'll take detailed photos of the process and try to go in to detail about each one. I am no Laura - she's been doing this since 1975 or thereabouts! - and you can always see her stuff on her youtube channel, but sometimes a different voice, a different perspective will help a new technique finally click. So, I'll add my voice in there and perhaps it will help some of you as you make your pretty things.

While I'm starting to put that together, if you'd like to see a bit more on the John C Campbell Folk School, I've got a small photo album put together from the trip. I focused more on the weaving than getting photos, so it's a bit sparse, but one of the other students also took pictures. Many pictures. So, go, enjoy the photos and stay tuned for more blog posts on cool techniques Real Soon Now!