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This is a short message about wool.

I love wool. I really do, and that’s evident from the fact that I’ve been playing with quite a lot of it recently (more than usual). Some has been sold to the nice lady at the local knitting shop, some has been traded for, er, more-but-different wool with some people I know on Ravelry. Some – quite a lot – came in this week from a supplier, and some – just a little – has made it into a tiny Easter Uprising of Wool of my Etsy shop today.

There’s even a very little of a new cashmere blend sock yarn, which is squishy beyond my wildest dreams, and is currently inspiring dreamy colorways like ‘A Cloud in Trousers’

And yes, there is still a lot of wool lying around my house. And now that I’m enjoying the new, even more unwieldy and unreliable pleasure that is fiber, I’m about to put in another large order for that. Because you can do some really seriously cool things with fiber. And if you can then sell it to people who actually know how to spin, well, you may just have helped bring a thing of beauty into the world. And who can say better than that on a fine spring day?

Nice stuff, huh?

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Good question.

We’ll come to it later on.

Yesterday, we went to an Open Farm day at one of the farms which supplies our local farmers’ market. I’ve always liked them, and their meat, and the idea of buying local organic produce, etc. All those things that mean we turn out week after week to support the farmers’ market, even on a day like last Saturday, which poured with the kind of rain rarely seen outside of the tropics or an old-fashioned Hollywood sound lot. The road became a river, the farmers were half-drowned, and incey-wincey batsman had his game of cricket rained out, so he hasn’t been an entirely happy chappy this weekend. That said, he did get to play one evening last week when we also had tickets for the opera, and so he’d better not make too much of it. That’s all I’ll say, but if dear, if you read this: take note.

It was certainly interesting to see the actual animals you are likely to be eating over the next year or so, and I found it oddly reassuring. The animals looked like they have a decent environment, and good husbandry, and no nasty antibiotic crap to eat, and are slaughtered a mere eight miles away (and it turns out they have to be scheduled first because they are organic animals), so they have the lowest stress levels your meat could plausibly have. I know my food was an animal, and I’m not prepared to be vegetarian, but I do care – and worry – considerably about the ethics of livestock production. Just, if I am ever faced with having to kill the creature myself, I might become vegetarian then. That’s my bottom line of hypocrisy actually: I won’t seek out the er, ‘opportunity’ to kill my dinner personally, but if I find I am confronted with it (like when I had to batter a fish supper to death on a rock, or pluck a still-warm chicken), and shirk, then I can’t allow myself to eat that kind of dinner again.

But where was I? Yes – the Open Farm day. Fair play to them, they did a good job. The whole family were out in t-shirts that read, “ask me, I’m a farmer”, directing the significant traffic, running the various animal talks (including the disconcerting visit to the ‘finishing barn’ where next week’s burgers were looking soulful), filling the hay trailer with visitors for the tractor rides (we somehow missed this: it must have been when I was distracted by the sheep for a few hours), and running the piglet derby (they screamed like stuck toddlers when the racing ribbons were tied round their tummies). Additionally, there was a rather random reptile exhibit (“Have you ever felt a snake?”) and an equally random ‘dancing dog’ display. This involved a hideous decorative-type dog with pinched little features and a pink sparkly ruff (tutu?) around its neck jumping though hoops and so on. I couldn’t bear to watch, but the little ones were entranced. I was more entranced when the display ended and I discovered this: a woman spinning dog fur.

spinning dog furShe would spin your own dog’s fur if you wanted her to (a woman with several bags of fur stored away in the cupboard under her stairs came up while I was there and was delighted to find her: and my family think I’m strange). Or she would spin the hideous dog’s fur. I forget the name of the breed. She also knit up some of the resulting yarn into very well-made garments she sold at a price that cannot have justified the labor. One item was a child’s swing coat, very beautifully knit, cabled all the way around, and with perfect buttons (I want some of those buttons). The really odd thing was that, since the dog fur fluffs up enormously as it’s worn, I can’t imagine you’d see any of the lovely stitches after about a week. It was a staggering amount of effort that she’d put into this coat. If you could mine someone else’s time like a fossil fuel and release the energy from it the way you can burn coal, I would have bought that jacket like a shot. And if you want an idea of how much dog fluffs up, take a look at her jersey. It’d make a fine dancing bear outfit. (And check out her matching hair: I did warn you there was something slightly scary about the whole experience). My main take-home from the meeting? That spinning wheel you see there: it has a much smaller footprint than I expected. And I know where to borrow one from.

So in the end, they hauled me away from the crazy spinning lady, because only if I left could I see the sheep. In theory I was supposed to be helping carry the lunch, but by the time I disengaged, the lunch had already been carried off on a tea-tray srounged by miracle. I say, between me and a miracle, they were better off relying on the the miracle and they clearly knew it. But the thought of the sheep got me back on message, if only because at that point I had  cunningly realigned the message with my own nefarious purposes. Of course my favorites were the sheep. There were some orphaned, hand-reared lambs that the kids were allowed to pet while I pretended to listen to the farmer’s talk about which kind was crossed with which to produce what. Really I was thinking about jumping in the petting pen, and about the notion that fresh wool with the lanolin in it might become waterproof mittens, if a person were able to spin it, combined with the very obvious fact that those sheep had just been sheared (and a couple of dozen enormous sacks of fleece were sitting conspicuously in the adjacent barn). Eventually they dragged me away under threat of a cream tea.

As the Beloved was stuffing children back into the car, I doubled back to beg some wool off the farmer. I was thinking about a handful, to try out the drop spindle I haven’t made yet (from old CDs, or anything else, either). He was more than happy to oblige, since it seems there is indeed practically no retail value to the wool. He sells it – for not much – to the Wool Marketing Board – and  apparently what I’d heard elsewhere is true: the fleece is worth less than the cost of the shearing. I made it back to the car with an armload of fleece and stuffed two big bags with it (two, not three bags full) and shoved them in the boot (trunk). One bag of black, one of white. I’m excited, anyway.

Shortly afterwards, we stooed for the cream tea and I wanted my coat. I opened the boot – just enough to get my coat, just for a second, but the Littlest One was right behind me, and he gasped and pointed: “Why are there sheeps in there?” And of course everyone fell about laughing, and thy’ve been mocking me ever since. Now my two bags of sheeps are standing outside the front door, and I have had to be persuaded that no-one is likely to come and steal them. “People will steal anything,” I say, and they look at me pityingly.

Meanwhile – my stripes progress, thus:

striped sock

Not bad, eh?

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stripesI’m feeling pretty clever. Having been very engaged of late with the most hands-on of crafting activities, I am proud to announce the first interim results. The sock yarn I dyed lately, hoping for stripes? Here it is. And those nice needles (bamboo, 2.5 mm)? They come in sets of 100 for 70p from the kitchen supplies shop. (Actually some of them are 2.75 mm: you have to check. Personally I think several sizes of needle for 70p – or about $1 – is even better value.) Borrow Child One’s pencil sharpener, give them a light sand, and they turn out to be fine. Any misgivings I expressed earlier in the week, on anyone else’s blog are entirely mistaken and must have been written by paracetamol-deprived gremlins who know my passwords/logins.

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sock2To quote a well-loved television show from my childhood, “here’s one two I made earlier.” Actually, to be honest, they dragged on a bit because I did a few other things while I was at them, and in the end I decided that if I didn’t crack on fairly smartish, I rather hoped I wouldn’t have a chance to put them on for months (being that they are a nice thick 80% lambswool, 10% angora, 10% cashmere blend). But today was still comfortable for them (and boots as well, I’m afraid).

I’m so glad I kept them both going at the same time. The first one was finished on Saturday evening, and the second sock syndrome only had a couple of days to get going – not quite long enough to take hold. So voilà!

There really are two— eye of partridge heel, and all.

socks1socks3

The pattern is Posh Yarn’s slip up socks, which was a lot easier once I worked out that you basically always slip purlwise. Who knew? The entire world, probably, but not me.

Oh, and another thing: I did the builder an injustice. He has come back to do the bits and pieces. Or possibly to talk all day and charge us for it. I’ve spent half the day cowering upstairs. Wow, we always have such talkative workmen. The electrician we favor even talks nonsense. Literally. I kid you not. He is an evangelical Christian, and from halfway down my cellar steps one day, he offered to talk in tongues for me. So he did. At length. When eventually he finished he said, “did you understand any of that?” No, I had to admit, I didn’t (but it sounded very imressive, I have to say). “No,” he said, perfectly cheerfully. “Neither did I.” Apparently it was his soul, speaking directly to God, which I must say is a notion that appeals to me.

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I don’t like waste, I really, really don’t. I’m not a big one for throwing away anything that might be useful (but on the rare occasions when I do throw away, boy, do I throw). In the “there are two kinds of people in the world” division between the pack rats and the minimalists, I am rather sorry to admit I know to which party I belong. In fairness though, I am better than many at actually getting round to using those useful-looking things. Here is a broken clothes airer:

clothes airer houseclothes airer house2Two things you should know about this: it still folds up like a regular airer, and it’s a HOUSE, not a tent. Thank you.

And maybe my best day last year was the day we got the compost bin. It was a gleeful, soothing thing to peel a family’s-worth of vegetables for a roast dinner and not fill the bin. Just – disappear it to the compost, and know that it was doing something good. It used to kill me: all those healthy peelings, just going into a black refuse bag. The day my local council introduced a food-waste collection scheme was pretty good too. Now they take away the things I’m not keen to feed my own compost, like meat bones and cheese rinds and the dead pasta that fell under the little ones’ chairs (“you could eat off out floor” says the Beloved darkly, and with regularity).

I am, after all, a person who has found a use for dryer lint. I’m not saying I keep it indefinitely, but I found it irksome to throw away something so glaringly useful-looking (but perhaps other people are not gnawed at by the ‘obvious’ utility of lint), and now I have found me a use. Turns out that dryer lint, if reasonably densely textured, is excellent for polishing stained glass. Outstanding at it. Assuming that the solder has no nasty spikes (which good solder lines shouldn’t have), it polishes up a treat. All the finger marks and residual flux grime come off beautifully, and then you throw your little wad of polishing lint into the compost (ha! ha!) and done, sorted. Solved.

So, when a knitting recipe says “place stitches in reserve on some waste yarn” my first instinct is to think something like “what mean they by this ‘waste yarn’ idea?” In exactly the way I have trouble throwing away any piece of glass more than about half an inch square (there’s no glass too small to use if you’re prepared to be patient as you can see here), that extra six inches of yarn left over from grafting the toe of those socks isn’t WASTE, it’s darning yarn in waiting.

eye of partridge heelBut I’ve decided that you can still use it like the proverbial waste yarn, even if you intend to keep it for later. Which is what I just did. I’m making a new, slightly more ambitious pair of socks. Firstly, they are patterned, secondly I tried the ‘eye of partridge heel’, and thirdly I’m sort of doing them both at once. That’s where taking the first one off the needles came in. I previously left all the other stitches on while I did the heel, and now I’ve counted my needles and contemplated the intruiging notion of ‘hot-needling’. If I work smart, I can use one set of dpn’s and still work on both socks simultaneously (leg on one, heel on the other; heel on the second, gusset on the first). I’m not sure about how working the yarn from both ends is going to pan out: it could be a real pain.

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The Beloved was off to South Africa for a couple of weeks on Sunday. Firstly, it had to be Sunday and not Saturday because of the priority of watching the finale to the season’s Six Nations. Which was very thrilling, but ultimately disappointing for Wales. Well, never mind: at least they won’t have to struggle from under the muffling mantle of favorites next year.

nice foot at leastSecondly, I had to finish his socks in time for him to give them a wearing before leaving. Now he was not to be allowed to take them with him (he said it was too hot anyway), in case they fell foul of The Infamous Washing Disaster of Johannesburg, an incident involving a less-than-state-of-the-art machine and an operator unprimed in the delicate matter of handling hand-made socks. So they were finished for good or ill by the Knitting Dervish of legend, on Saturday morning and presented to the Beloved’s feet. He said they were going to be too hot (it having been unaccountably, confusingly, but short-lived-ly spring-like), but upon receipt of an appropriate look, he demurred and on they went. I think they went down fairly well.

Sock A was truly rubbish: holey crap, in fact. Sock A was so terrible it needed darning before it could be put on, and that was only so it was a plausible match for Sock B. Now Sock B was preferable, by far, and at least could be called a sock instead of a waste of good wool, but it was hardly the dizziest height of elegant hosiery. Sock C (ongoing at the moment) is as superior to Sock B as Sock B was to Sock A.

terrible sockI should really have taken a photograph of Sock A before it received the ministrations of the darning needle: it was sadly comical. The sock equivalent of two-year-old finger-painting. My father – cruel man – on spotting it on a recent (rare) visit declared that he would be throwing away a sock with that many holes in it. Very witty. But he won’t be getting socks from me anytime soon. Unless he begs. Which I have to admit is unlikely. It is actually still pretty terrible. See this? How bad is this? I also had to warn the Beloved that they might not be his socks forever. Who knows what will happen to them? I think the gauge is too loose, so they might just streeeetch impossibly; they might shrink in the wash. They might do the former and then have the latter done unto them in a desperate remedial – or retaliatory – gesture… I will anyway do him better ones some day.

sock cIn my own defense, I feel it only fair to give a foretaste of Sock C: altogether better. I don’t think I’ve managed to drop any stitches (yet) and there are no great gaping holes (or none worth mentioning). I think I have benefited from experience – the joy of still being at the Early Learner Exponential Improvement stage of socks – and smaller needles. Yes! Half the size of porcupine I was using before. Size 3 (3.25mm) has given way to size 2 (2.75) and the result looks altogether sturdier. I’ve also gone for 1 x 1 ribbing instead of 2 x 2 (but I still “cheated” and did that part on straights. Hey: it works for me, OK).

I quite like this sock thing at the moment. I can see how it could get addictive. Where next? A pattern? Maybe.  Let’s finish Sock C first. Oh – and Sock D, too.

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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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