Archive for February, 2009

Kelvin ticked away happily last night (and him ticking off the degrees, all 1425 of them, up and down the scale is definitely one of my favorite all’s-well-with-the-world noises), and I grappled with the porcupine some more, and so the evening was passed. I decided both that the sock is not hideous, per se (it’s only the mangled-ness that makes it so), and that it’s going to be bigger than I thought (despite the swatch, Yarn Harlot). This is a blow, because I will have to give it to my husband, and his foot is bigger than mine (for which fact thank goodness, I suppose), and therefore more sock will need to be produced before I can call it done. I asked him how short was too short for a manly sock, and he very generously said that he’d wear ankle socks if I needed him to, but the idea of the Manly Ankle Sock may yet prove more wearable than the artefact. I started the heel. Fun, fun, fun.

The night was an unmitigated sleep disaster. I could say it was because I was distracted by Kelvin’s doings (and it is embarrassingly true ad childish of me, that I always sleep worse when there’s something in the kiln) or I could say it was because I was distracted by the matter of having scooped 220g of (allegedly) pure angora handspun on eBay for about the usual cost of 50g and was wondering what to make of it, but I can’t say that, because I’d have to admit to buying more yarn on eBay. I could alternatively say I was distracted by the two-year-old singing sweetly to himself for two hours (between three and five a.m.), or I could suggest that I was musing on the mirror I was planning to start this morning… Anyway, all I can certainly say of last night’s sleep was that it reminded me of the old Yiddish joke about the two old ladies complaining about the food at the resort in the Catskills: such terrible quality —and such small portions.

I checked the kiln first thing, as of old. I had got it on a bit early, while the kids were in the bath, so it was finished and cool enough to open before I went out. I thought I’d leave it a bit longer than I often manage (I usually open it as soon as the temperature drops to 200°) since the slab might- with luck, would – be thicker than the 6mm standard, and slower to cool, so I didn’t really want to beg for an entirely unnecesary thermal shock event. So, how was it? Since you ask, fine. Unexciting, but fine. The surface was slightly bumpy, but it’s actually quite nice, and I’ll be perfectly happy if I can preserve the effect through the slump firing. The overall color – or transparency – was good. There are a few bubbles, but not so many that the clarity is compromised. The colored frits are a bit dull: the cranberry pink is disappointingly flat, and the erbium pink tint is so subtle it’s practically disappeared. But erbium pink tint is like that – I know it is. I only get anxiety about it because it’s such an expensive color (the cranberry is too, now I think about it). It’s silly to use it invisibly. The disc is a satisfyingly thickness, and evenness across the plane. No thin bits, no holes. I think it will play nicely with the drop ring. So the cake ring mold worked like a charm. The lining with Thinfire, not so good. The paper fell onto the glass and it will have to be scoured, as there’s a powdery effect all around the edge now. Ah well: t least it didn’t bake on like kiln wash does. Next time I think I will try keeping it in place with a high-temp-wire paper-clip/kirby-grip-type arrangement. The gritty details: top temp 1425° for 25 minutes, and a hold at 985° for 45 minutes.

And today I started a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired square leaded mirror. More on that later. If I can lay my hands on the preliminary sketch, I’ll scan it in here. It’s very pleasant indeed to be playing with lead again. It’s such lovely tactile stuff. Mmmm.

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I decided it’s time to make something in glass again. I know I don’t have enough places to sell it, I know sales are down in the bad economic times, I know it’s silly, but –

I found me an excuse.

I thought I’d at least tidy up my glass room. And as I tidied I found the hammer, which was hiding amongst the clear offcuts, ready for the transformation of same into coarse frit. Meanwhile, my husband, poor dear, keeps thinking he’s lost the hammer and has several times had occasion to enquire whether I might have happened upon it anywhere. We have, on each of these occasions, gone through the stages of a) me admitting I do indeed know where it is, b) me admitting where it in fact is, c) him asking – job being done – if I need it back and d) myself concurring that I do, “but only for a little while”.

I can’t face going through this process again.

image019And the clear scrap was very overflowing, so this project is quite obviously part of the tidying process. And I have a large cake ring that I bought with exactly this project in mind, so I took hammer in hand and wrapped the scrap in a big thick wad of paper and hammered till the demons were all squashed for the day. It being a relatively demon-free day, I tired quickly and therefore stopped while the scrap was probably still a bit too lumpy, but we shall see. The balance is difficult: the finer the frit, the less clear the resulting glass sheet will be; the coarser, the harder it is to work out the right firing schedule (high enough, slow enough – all guesswork at the best of times), or more honestly – the more obvious it is if you’ve done a bad job; and the more you hammer your glass, the more very fine bits you get, while reducing the outrageously huge bits to gigantic bits, and the gigantic to huge, and the huge to merely very large indeed and so on. But the grit/lump ratio definitely goes up, which is detrimental.

Yes, I know you could filter the stuff through some kind of sieve, but that would be another stage to complete under “timed conditions” (this used to mean mock exams, now it’s toddler naps). And it would mean more opportunity to release dangerous fine particles of glass into the atmosphere and breathe it in in the absence (I know: I’m an idiot) of the appropriate face mask. I suppose I feel that the dangers of pouring a bit of pounded glass from a sheet of packing paper onto a kiln shelf isn’t like – I don’t know – playing with asbestos playing cards, but I still don’t want to take more than minimal risk. Also I’m lazy, and I’m not too sure the results will be worth even the amount of effort I am making.

image021So it all went onto the shelf, with the steel cake ring around it (lined with Thinfire shelf paper, but not kiln washed: we dice with death and sneer at disaster) to try and contain it in a circle while allowing it to build up a little thickness. If I have added enough glass I will be able to go deeper than the 6mm basic thickness, but I’m not sure, because I didn’t employ any of the scientific tricks for working it out. Silly me. It’s too late to go back and do it now, and I don’t think it matters much in this case. I did something similar before, and I ws surprised at how much it melted down. So this time, I refuse to be surprised. It WILL have shrunk, by the Law of Frit, more than I think. And. I. Will. Not. Be. Surprised.

I also threw a bit of official Bullseye colored frit on top – like cherries and pistachio nuts –  to spice it up. If it comes out as I hope, I might put it to jump through a drop-ring mold for my next trick.

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dpn1So there I was, with sock yarn, all wound up and ready to go. But no sock needles to go there on, like Cinderella awaiting a coach (and slippers – or socks?). Having spent five days – or as many lifetimes – winding the stupid yarn, I faffed around online for another age, trying to mentally unravel the mysteries of DPNs and which to buy, and (being also frugal, and cautious) where from. In the end, I decided on Knitpro (Knitpicks) Symfonie in 2.75mm and 3.25mm, brought from Artist’s Palette Yarns, to whom I was most endeared by an attractive web site and non-gouging postage rate. One day I will go back and buy yarn. Possibly some of the rather appealing-sounding ‘rescue yarn’. The needles took less time to arrive than it had taken me to decide on them, and I’m not proud of the fact. Not that it helped the decision process that I didn’t want to buy every single possible size. I did a tentative (for which read “tiny”) swatch on my bamboo straights, guessed a size down, and hoped for the best.

So they came, and they were smooth and pretty, and very pointy, and very skinny-looking, and very deeply baffling. I faffed some more with sock patterns online and ordered a book (which came a whole tenterhooked, post-watching week later) and then decided that ‘suck it and see’ was likely the only way forward, so I sucked. Hard and long. And am sucking still. I still haven’t worked the damned things out. I have learnt a couple of things, and though I doubt they are of any use to anyone, I humbly present them here, just in case.

Firstly, you do not have to start as you mean to go on. I see no reason (I tried both ways, and you may divine which worked for me) why socks must be started in the round. I found that, as a rank beginner, K2 P2 ribbing is a lot easier to keep track of in a straight line than randomly divided among several needles. And anyway – should that have been three, or four needles? So I ended up going straight for the ribbing and then moving onto the DPNs for the stockinette.

Secondly, stockinette in the round!!!! Wow. Wow. Wow. How does that work? OK, they tell you it’s a spiral, not a circle you’re actually knitting, and I suppose that much makes sense. After all, if I think of it as a single piece of string, rather than stitches or loops, which I find easier to manipulate in my mind’s eye, I can see it would form a coil, so of course knitting does too. And once you have a coil, you must …

No, I’m still confused. Why isn’t it garter stitch? My brain needs to lie down in a darkened room. But I don’t really care. It’s brilliant. Not that I have anything against purl, I just … think it’s an amazing thing, that you can get perfect stockinette just by going knit, knit, knit, knit like a zombie. And that helps when you are concentrating with all your might and main with learning to hold a porcupine.

Thirdly, how many needles/prickles do you use at once? I started with 3+1, thinking that the fewer I had to hold, the easier it would be to keep control of them. Well, now I’m using 4+1, but I reserve the right to change my mind.

Fourthly, hey – I can change my mind. It’s a shock, but I realized I can migrate stitches around the needles as I want to. Or, as I realise what “ladders” are, and how migrating round the needles seems like a neat and undocumented way to avoid them. Pull tighter, people say. I say, move a stitch or two over every round, and you might have complex scaffolding, but you don’t have ladders. I know this from seeing them appear and then disappear before my eyes. Gadzow. Why do I suspect that at some point I will figure out there was a Very Good Reason 24,567,982 knitters don’t seem to do it this way? But I figure, these are beginner socks, and there are no complicated pattern stitches and who cares, I wear boots all the time anyway?

So I seem to be moving along, sort of. Inelegantly, but progressing. I have a small, half-ribbed, half-stockinette tube, and it’s confounding my daughter, whom I’m teasing by not telling her what it is going to become. Like all my works in progress, I hate this one with a passion right now (for instance I cordially loathe the yarn which I liked so much as a naked hank) and am sure I’m wasting my time on something so utterly hideous that the bin will blush when I consign it to That, its Rightful Oblivion. Usually I come around again afterwards, becoming fond when It (whatever It is) acquires the charisma of the complete. Knitting is friendlier than glass, in that regard because if you do still hate it, you can just unravel it back to being yarn and all you’ve lost is time (and you may still have learned someting in the process); glass, once cut, soldered, leaded, what-have-you, is harder to put back to a virgin (by which I mean useable) state. Maybe, maybe, you can melt it, or cut it into smaller, other shapes, but it’s much harder, and generally more wasteful. And I really, really don’t like waste.

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serengetiThe other day, I tried to explain how I added to a hat brim using fake double pointed needles, but I suspect I wasn’t clear. Let me try again as simply as possible by saying I used one pair of working needles and two or three other, random needles of similar size to hold all the stitches I couldn’t accommodate on the working pair, slipping stitches from one needle to another as required. It worked, but it was painful.

So, having at least got an inkling as to how and why DPNs were invented, I thought I would get some real ones, and a ball of the right kind of string and  – nothing daunted – tackle a pair of socks. Or possibly one sock. Or maybe half a sock, and leave the rest for another year. The jury is still out on which of these, actually.

The string- wool – yarn, whatever you want to call it was a bitch to wind into a ball. I assure you I am not exaggerating when I say it took five days. I know this with precision because I started winding right at the beginning of the England cricket team’s Second Test against the West Indies (I was listening to the most soothing radio in the world, the BBC’s far-famed ‘Test Match Special‘) and I finished winding right at the nail-biting end. This is probably not the time or place to get into the fascination of cricket commentary, or travel the well-worn path of wonder about the fact (incredible to millions, or more likely, billions of people around the word) that a game can go on for five days and still end in a draw and that this process can be (at its best) tense in the extreme. Please suspend your disbelief at least far enough to understand that it was as good an accompaniment to unravelling an unholy mess of Cherry Tree Hill supersock merino (in serengeti colorway) as it would be possible to imagine. I should further make it clear that until further information is available (I do have another hank, in another color, for another day) it should be assumed that the fault was entirely mine, and nothing to do with the f^$*&ing fiber. I started fine, and continued fine for about 100 yards. Then I got a bit snarled up, but completed another approximately 150 yards (in first gear, as it were) on the first evening. At that point I had what looked like a large heap of bloody entrails on the floor in front of me and no will to ever touch it again. I decided that I could possibly make children’s socks with what I had wound already (not as if I don’t have any children – ‘included but not limited to’ quite small ones) and throw the rest away… Or something, to be determined later. My friends, I cut the yarn. And walked away.

Of course, being consitutionally unable to throw anything away that might (possibly in another life, or on another planet) be useful, I sure as hell wasn’t really going to throw the mess of bloody entrails away, so they ended up on the kitchen counter, “for later.” Knowing myself quite well by now, I knew full well I would have to unpick that mess if it was the last thing I did. I was thinking I might do it a bit at a time, over a lifetime, or however many lifetimes it took. So, that turned out to be another four days, and I still can’t decide if I got away lightly or not. One strange thing I discovered: I think the yarn relaxed whenever I turned my back. I’d pick for a bit, and wind a few more yards, get completely snarled, unable to proceed an inch further, and give up to attend to some other more pressing matter (of which there were a few in four days). Here’s the spooky part: I’d come back a while later and with no effort at all unwind a few more yards. The last day was really hairy and I came mightily near to ceremonial murder with scissors, but I persisted, and was rewarded with a complete hank of yarn wound into two balls and looking delightful. Looking, more specifically, like Socks-In-Waiting.

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More about knitting, I’m afraid.

I made a scarf, from a really nice Welsh wool (yarn) and a really nice pattern from the Yarn Harlot (which I didn’t do justice to, though I can’t work out why), and I made a hat to go with it, from a chunkier wool in the same colours. Actually I made the hat first, then the scarf, then went back to tinkering with the hat, having worn it a few times and decided that a) it needed lining and b) it was about a row too short.

So I needed to learn how to pick up stitches and alter the hat “live” – and in the round. Hmmm. The problem was, I quickly found that I couldn’t add all the stitches round the circumference of the hat onto my regular straight needles. Well of course not!

Am I a knitting imbecile?


But I did fairly quickly realise that if I used a couple of other needles in similar sizes, I could get the extra stitches all round my hat and gradually manoeuvre round those stitches with the pair in the correct size (moving stitches a few at a time onto the correct size needle, to be worked from as I went along), I could – albeit tediously – do what I needed to do. I can’t explain it very well. It looked a fine mess, and I wish I’d taken a photograph of it. There were knitting needles sticking out in all directions. But, crucially, it worked.

Yay. I just invented double pointed needles! Or sort of. What I really did was give myself a practical lesson (wow! I get it!) in what they are, how they work, and why I need to get some, pronto.

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More is less

I think this needed to be added to the frit tutorial. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m not sure I was quite clear enough before, so here it is, spelled out in the least uncertain of terms:

  • More frit than you can possibly imagine is still less than you think.
  • Quite possibly it is less than you need.
  • Any less, it just won’t be enough, especially for pale shades. It will disappear. Completely.
  • So go heavy with it, and the finer the grade, the heavier you need to go.

So for powder, imagine you are trying to murder someone with a sodium overdose and that your frit is the salt; whereas for fine frit, you are merely trying to make them very, very ill.

Coarse frit is much more “wysiwyg”, so you can exercise relative caution.

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Wool vs. Yarn

img_2904Here’s another thing I don’t really get (and I’m sure I’m not alone).

When I was a child, the stuff that jumpers were knitted out of, the stuff my grandmother could knit into motorbikes, country mansions, whatever (given enough of the stuff), well – it was called WOOL. All of it. No matter whether it was, actually, wool or not. In fact, most of it probably wasn’t (then as now). The knitting of the poor was acrylic in the last quarter of the last century, though when my mother was growing up – in knitted socks, knitted vests, and knitted swimming costumes – wool really was wool. And it had a bad rap. Which if you’re going to turn it into serious bathing wear you can, frankly, understand. [If you can’t understand, stop for a moment and imagine a wet woolen bathing suit, and it that doesn’t worry you, start looking to develop your empathy skills.]

Now I never really got the acrylic thing. It wasn’t nice, or desirable (and I’m sorry, but it’s why all the pastel acrylic baby sweaters my ex-mother-in-law knitted so very beautifully were only very occasionally and dutifully put on my daughter, primarily in the presence of the said ex-mother-in-law). It didn’t make me want to pick up those sticks myself. Maybe that’s why I failed so miserably to learn to knit every time she tried to teach me. (Or maybe it was her Euro-knitting style – complemented by muttered Spanish incantations – that was so mind-boggling).

However, not having cause to analyse it, I pretty much continued to think that wool meant wool right up until recently. As in, up until a few weeks ago, when I started looking to buy some. (It was a little akin to the way I assumed as a child that “shot” implied “fatally”, and was for a long time profoundly confused by various news stories suggesting otherwise.) Then I discovered that wool rarely means wool.

Yarn means wool. Wool means acrylic.

Well I never. I thought yarn was maybe an American term for wool. Perhaps it once was. Now I can state with fair conviction that it means wool – and fancy wool at that. Or other nice natural fibre. Angora, mohair… The more expensive, luxurious and hand-painted the better. If it’s nice, it’s yarn. If it’s nasty and horrible and a yarn-snob wouldn’t touch it with a six-foot stick, it’s probably “wool”.

I’ve been resisting calling wool yarn, but now I think I might have to give in because I’m getting too confused. Sometimes, you just have to go with the zeitgeist or become incomprehensible, not to mention anacronistic. Sometimes that’s worth fighting (I intend to continue saying fewer when I mean fewer, andless when I mean less, for instance) and sometimes it’s not. My father claims to resent having to give up ready access to the word “gay” in all the contexts he used to use it in: I always tell him it’s gone in a good cause, and gay people needed a decent word more than he needed another synonym for lighthearted. I’m not really convinced “wool” is worth fighting for. But I do wonder when and how this happened.

This wool is yarn, not wool

This wool is yarn, not wool

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Cold snow in warm glass

img_28851Well, I did the glass snow-scene thing I was thinking about, and it came out promising. I don’t know what it is: maybe some kind of a hot dish mat thing? I’m afraid I can’t even think waht that’s called: my table is not worth protecting from anything. Toddlers have had the better of it for quite some time, and now a hot dish here or there would be the least of its problems. I am planning to scale this up and put it on the wall. Or perhaps a less representational scene? And how will I get it onto the wall anyhow? I believe there are clip-glass-to-the-wall systems out there you can buy, or I may be able to cobble something together in a more satisfyingly homemade way, given time.

Meanwhile, the scene-thingy in all its glory. If not too clear. You may have to trust me on this one.

The scene itself is two layers – a base layer of clear (Tekta), with a sky of juniper tint. You can’t really tell from the picture, but it’s a very (too?) subtle wintry blue/gray. The snowy fields were cut from a single piece of white opal that was cut into the different sections you can see. They were placed a couple of mm apart and tack fused to retain  definition. There wouldn’t have been much point in fusing hot enough to melt it all back together again, would there. Then I added the detail in my favorite black powder frit, including running a little black into the channels I had created in the white glass, and refired. This was also the point at which I added the bottom – framing – layer of clear glass, to make the wole thing look more finished and substatial.img_28821

I would actually do this differently next time. I think a) I fired too high second time around, and lost some clarity in the black, and b) there were rounded edges to the channels that made applying frit a nightmare, which is why the trees came out crap (although, again, it may not be obvious in this picture). I think it should be possible – nay, preferable – to do it all in a singe firing.

Hey! A trivet? Isn’t that the term for a hot-dish-thingy?

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Get a grip.

No histrionics please: we’re only Welsh, after all. Land of many things Wales may be, but wild, soaring self-belief is rarely one of them.

That said, you should have watched Scrum V on BBC1 Wales last night. I note that BBC1 in the rest of the UK had different programming, while we in Wales got to soak up a little more of this weekend’s six-nations rugby-fest. As on Saturday France lost to Ireland and England stumbled around shambolically against an Italian side that had gallantly greed to play with one hand tied behind their backs (thus allowing the home side a chaotic and undeservedly flattering home victory), things could hardly have been better when completed by Wales cruising to a win in Scotland. 26-13, and they let themselves down badly in the last quarter of the game to win by so little.

Well, we enjoy our rugby, and we rarely get to enjoy it as much as this. There is normally so much negativity in Wales, and no-one ever seems to dare get caught in possession of a positive thought (that might jinx the team’s chances) that it was refreshing – and astounding – to see the entire TV panel grinning and smiling and generally, well, gleeful.

And no, they probably won’t win another Grand Slam, or even the tournament this year (there I go with the negativity), but it’s a delight to enjoy the moment.While we can. And yes, England being awful is always a bonus. Which isn’t to say they might not come to Cardiff and win next weekend, because part of the joy of rugby – all sport, I suppose (though rugby isn’t really a sport, but the One True Religion) – is that the upset is always so possible. However, every year the British media, by which I mean the overwhelmingly English media, talk up England to win, all the time – it’s always England as favorites, England as the team to watch, the team to beat. Yards of newspaper coverage, they get, and Wales get about half an inch. It makes me sick. It’s nice to see the roles reversed for a change, however briefly.

So perhaps I should be embarrassed at this, but good Welsh rugby acts as a real tonic to me. I remember last year, when I had a three-week continuous tonsillitis event, and was feeling very sorry for myself (something about not being able to swallow without pain for three weeks – and for the third time in as many months – was making me ‘unaccountably’ deranged: go figure) – my husband would whisper “16-12” to me, and that was enough to cheer me up. (That was the Wales-Ireland score a year ago.)

Remind me to tell you about the Cursed Shirt before next week’s game.

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img_2878More eye-candy.

I have actually made a prototype glass winter scene, which I keep meaning to photograph, but in the meantime I have been captivated by my lovely old charity shop (thrift store to any Americans) needles. I don’t know what they are made of, but I thought they looked fantastic, and they were a bona fide pair, so I bought them, and now I find they are the right size, and type, for a new project. More specifically, the first part of the new project.

I think they may  be casein – a milk protein apparently. They are warmer, and more rubbery than I think plastic would be, and much, much cuter. Here they are in glory, with a ball of glorious Noro ‘Cashmere Island’ in the background and – out of shot – four centimeters of 2×2 ribbing athwart them, about to be turned into fingerless mitts.

About is a relative term: I may be at it some time.

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