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Category: Other Fibers

When things don’t go as planned, improvise

When things don’t go as planned, improvise

Imagine this: you’ve planned that project in your head. You’ve gone through all the steps and know what needs doing. You have all the materials, and you’re getting ready to work on it. It’s going to be epic!

Except… something goes terribly wrong and the end result is nothing like what you expected.

Sound familiar?

Hand dyed yarn by Eleanor Shadow
This hand dyed yarn looks great at first glance, but in reality it’s “muddy” – the colours have somehow blended into each other in a not-so flattering way.

I’m sure we’ve all been there. Craft long enough and, be it due to bad luck or simple statistics, something will go wrong.

The problem: The yarn above is a colourway of mine called Love Heart Meow. At first glance, it looks exactly as it should, except something went wrong during the dyeing process and the end result is “muddy.” You can’t really tell in the photo, but in real life I can definitely see it and it’s driving me mad.

The solution: I’m going to overdye it. I find that when things don’t go as planned, a blue overdye can save things around. Who knows, maybe I’ll create a new colourway?

(Shameless plugin moment: I’m getting back to blogging in my own website and I’ll be sharing the over dyeing process over there very soon! I’ll of course still be working on new content for our lovely blog here.)

 


 

Silk cocoons

 

A while back I was doing an exchange with a dyer friend of mine and decided to send her some hand dyed silk cocoons. Silk comes at a price for the poor silk worm, so I was very keen to “make it count” (yes, I’m the soppy type).

I carefully dyed each cocoon, making it so that the exterior and the interior were slightly different and adding variation in shade/colour. I was rather chuffed with the result.

Of course, I then proceeded to ruin things beautifully. I don’t know what happened in my brain but I decided to set the colours with more acid… by dunking the cocoons in hot water.
If you’ve ever dyed these precious things, you’ll know they need to be steam set if you want them to retain their shape. Hot water is most emphatically not the right thing to do, as I remembered even as I was dunking them in the H2O.

The problem: I had a hot mess in my hands, the cocoons all melted into each other, were soft and (to me, at the time) completely useless.

The temporary solution: Remove from water and back away from the project! Make some tea. Curse out loud. Come back later.

The real solution: After keeping whole thing away from sight a while, I looked at it again. It was a mess, but I could make it into something different. The colours were pretty. Then it hit me…

Fibre wall artwork by Eleanor Shadow

Tah-dah, wall art to the rescue. The colours are actually brighter in real life.

I sewed the Cocoon Combo to some black felt, added some beads and shiny embroidered stars in gold and silver. The shape of the thing was asking for an oval embroidery hoop, so I bought one in a suitable size and Bob’s your uncle.

It looks like something done on purpose, doesn’t it? It’ll be our secret.

 


 

Now, this wouldn’t be a post by yours truly if I didn’t add a little sewing, would it?

While perusing one of my usual fabric supply sites I stumbled upon the most fun cat fabric. As with most things in the crafty brain, I had the “button” sorted but not the “suit,” so to speak. I had to come up with something to create with that fabric!

I decided on the Metamorphic Dress by Sew Liberated because it looked comfy and, best of all, asked for two complementary fabrics (the cat fabric had a “friend” that I thought made the cats look even cuter. Aaand, I’ll stop using metaphors now.)

Metamorphic Dress by Sew Liberated, sewn by Eleanor Shadow

I love this dress. It works great on its own or as a top layer, making it good for more seasons. It’s meant to be reversible, but this one isn’t (there are reasons but I shan’t go into them).

One great thing about being short is, I never need as much fabric to make something as the pattern says I do. After careful calculations, I knew exactly how much to buy and order it I did.

The bad thing is, if you don’t have extra and make a mistake… well.
I was on the phone with my other half and got distracted. Instead of cutting the top layer a specific way, I did it wrongly. I immediately noticed the disaster, but it was too late. My soul hurt. I didn’t want to order more fabric because of this!

The problem: No extra fabric and the huge unwillingness to buy more. I was doomed.

The temporary solution: The same as with the cocoons! Back away from the project. Make some tea. Curse out loud. Come back later.

The real solution: I had a little extra of the gingham fabric. Patchwork to the saving.

Detail of Metamorphic Dress by Sew Liberated as sewn by Eleanor Shadow

I had only made a mistake with one half of the fabric, so that became the back. I cut that piece in two and added a strip of the under layer fabric to the middle. It almost looks like it’s a proper feature, at least to my eyes.

I’ll have to confess I felt rather smug after this. My solution worked, I didn’t have to buy extra fabric and my dress is perfectly wearable.

My smugness was somewhat abated after my mum saw the dress and said it looked like a maid’s apron, but that’s another story…

 


 

That’s it, three examples of things that didn’t go as planned but had a solution. If you let your brain think about it for a while in the background, I bet you’ll come up with alternative endings for your “mistakes.” Like the cliché goes, mistakes can be opportunities to do better later. Beats giving up, right?

 

Finally, the random photo of the day:

Sheep from the Shetland Islands

My lovely osteopath Jane went on holiday to the Shetland Islands and I asked her to send me some sheep pics. She obliged and I thought I’d share them with you.

Enjoy your weekend!

Theatre Textiles Part 1

Theatre Textiles Part 1

After I had retired from full time work in 2006 I was finally able to join SNADS – our local amateur dramatic society. I live in a small market town in Dorset and SNADS was the main source of entertainment for our area at that time (as it had been since 1930, although newspaper archives indicate that it was around at least as early as 1883). I had seen most of the productions which they had put on since we moved there in 1999 and longed to join in, not only on stage, but behind the scenes. During any one year there are at least 4 productions – Pantomime in February, Spring Play in May, a Variety Show/Revue in the summer and the Autumn play in early October, and as soon as that was over, the round started again with preparations for the following year’s Panto.

We had a fantastic wardrobe mistress, but she needed help with costumes, especially at Panto time as there was so much to do.

My first foray into costume was to make a full head cat mask for the summer review. Two of our members were to sing Rossini’s Cat Duet and the director decided that it would be fun to have a disreputable tom cat watching them from the side-lines. I had recently learned to wet felt 3D items using a resist, so I made the mask from wet felted pieces and needle felted details. I didn’t want the actor’s eyes to show through and anyway, I needed to give the cat it’s proper “slit” irises. So I stitched into the eye holes a piece of doubled yellow organza and just painted the vertical slit. (It is quite possible to see what’s going on through organza if it is held close to your face.) How to give him a proper nose? I needled the correct shaped nose on the mask, then I painted on some artist’s gesso, let it dry and added some more. Gesso is textured so it was necessary to file the nose to make it a bit smoother, also the gesso is white, so I painted the nose with black enamel paint which I nicked from my husband’s paint store (he’s a model maker). After a couple of coats of that, Tom had a shiny(ish) black nose. Add some “bitten” ears and “wonky” whiskers and he was nearly done. The cat’s mouth was open – it allowed the actor to breathe and gave Tom naughty grin. Finally I gave him a pink tongue and white tips to his ears.

Disreputable Tom Cat

The next production that I was involved in was the pantomime Cinderella, written and directed by one of our members. I was asked by the wardrobe mistress if I would dress both the Fairy (“Fairy Nuff”) and Buttons’ dog, Beau. The director wasn’t quite clear about what kind of dog Beau should be, except that he was to be comic. So I did a sort of 3D needle felt sketch of the dog’s head as I saw it – black and white with one ear cocked.

“Sketch” for Buttons’ Dog

However I’d got it wrong – Beau was to be a black poodle. 

After some discussion with the wardrobe mistress, we decided that the actor would wear a black polo necked top, thick black tights and black gloves. I managed to find a piece of curly black faux fur to make a short jacket, with enough left over to make pompon for the top of the head and the end of the tail, the long dangly ears and wrist and ankle rings to simulate the correct style poodle cut. I was to make a full head mask. For this I made a wet felt hood using a resist and a further piece of flat felt incorporating some of the curly faux fur trimmed from the bought fabric. A lot of that moulted out though because it was nylon or polyester and very slippery. Enough was fixed in however to give the right effect.

I made a needle felted muzzle – again with the mouth open to reveal the red tongue and white teeth, and to allow the actor to breathe.  The nose I made in the same way as for the tom cat – shaped with the felting needle, gessoed and painted.  The muzzle was attached to the hood/face with stitching and felting needles.  Some of the flat felt was cut to represent the dog’s lips and attached by stitching and needle felting to the muzzle.  The “Disney-esque” eyes were again painted organza and were stitched on the inside of the mask. 

The ears and head pompon were also stitched on.  I added a piece of brown fabric and a belt buckle around the dog’s throat to simulate a collar and allow the mask to be firmly secured over the actor’s polo necked top.  I have worn this costume myself a couple of times in subsequent Carnival processions – great fun.

Beau

Since the actress cast for the part of Fairy Nuff had a figure which could easily cope with a glamourous costume, for the base I was given a basque that fitted her. She was to appear out of a compost heap at the edge of the stage, so I set to and made lots of autumn coloured leaf shapes – mainly oak – out of different brown bronze and gold metallic organzas. I sandwiched sparkly bits between layers of organza. I machined stitched around the edges and along the veins of each leaf and then cut out the shapes with a soldering iron. This sealed the edges and prevented fraying. Then, with the basque on a dressmaker’s dummy I attached large pieces of bronze organza for the tail, and then added the strategically placed leaves.

The wings were made from two lengths of flat wire (originally from a pop-up fabric laundry container) covered with more organza, this time creamy white but with sparkles and sequins added. These were attached to the back of the costume by stitching the wire to the shoulder straps of the basque and covering the join with some dark bronze/gold chiffon.

The crown was made from bronze Christmas decorations (that year bronze was in fashion over here – UK). I used bronze plastic icicles, some foil stars and some more organza leaves attached to a head band. I can’t remember what the wand tip was made from – possibly a bunch of tinsel.

I actually got a speaking part in this Panto – only a couple of lines but a step up from what I’d had before.
I don’t have a proper photo, this was before my husband had a digital camera, however I’ve managed to extract a clip from the video we had made of the show. It’s a bit fuzzy if enlarged but I think you can get the gist. I’m in the gold dress with my exclusive “Toilet Duck” perfume, and my punchline? “It drives the men Quackers!”

Guests at the Ball with “perfume”!

After this show, we had one final “adult” Revue and then we moved to where we are now based. Try this link it should show you the hall we left, Sturminster Hall, and eventually the Community and Arts building, The Exchange, which is now our home. https://stur-exchange.co.uk/about/
Unfortunately it seems that a second link, on the above page, may not yet be working – this is a new website in the process of being fully set up so here’s the brochure which was produced the year after it opened.

The Exchange Brochure 2008

The staircase balustrade is wrought iron made by a local craftsman and represents the river Stour which runs through our town. All the Rooms in The Exchange are named after rivers and streams running close by, and it is just beginning to open again to live theatre as well as community groups.

We at SNADS started off our return with an Adult Cabaret a couple of weeks ago, for once without a male Balloon Dance or a ladies Fan Dance, but there was a Pole Dance!

More about my exploits with SNADS (including an explanation of the picture of the wicked queen) later. Watch this space.

Recycling and Upcycling silk kimono

Recycling and Upcycling silk kimono

A few blogs ago Welshfelters posted about upcycling/recycling a chinese lantern. That got me thinking about the project I’ve been plonking away on for ages now – recycling silk. I really love silk in almost all its forms, not too crazy about silk noil, but everything else is just lovely, the texture, the colours, the gloss, the sound. I have ASMR, so even thinking about silk gives me a case of the shivers.

When one of our guild members was down sizing and offered some used kimono for sale at an excellent price, I was first in line and happily took home a box of bright red, blue, brown, and orange silky bits. The construction of these kimono was amazing, all hand sewn, all exquisitely designed and all in deplorable condition. The fabric has deteriorated along the fold lines and has some tears, so re-purposing is one of the best options for most of the fabric. Hand washing and disassembly followed, along with a bit of ironing, just to make life a little easier when cutting time came.

A few years ago another friend had gifted me fabric cutters; Bliss and Frazer. They are both vintage models and well loved. When they first came into my care, I really had no immediate purpose for them but knew that ‘someday’ they would be put to good use. Along with recycling fabric, good tools also need to be kept in useful condition, so they went for a spa treatment to a talented gentleman who fixed a damaged bearing, sharpened the blades, retooled the wheel plate and generally got them both up and running optimally.

Silk is brutal on fabric cutters.

The wheel is starting to show signs of wear after cutting silk

The blade is showing signs of becoming dull, so I will probably switch to a rotary blade and ruler, which seems to work just fine. The rotary cutter has the added benefit of replacement blades that can be recycled and replaced as needed. I’ll save the fabric cutters for wool and cotton. Using the ruler and rotary cutter to cut width doesn’t yield consistent results, or as consistent as the fabric cutter, but with silk I don’t think that’s a significant issue. There are a couple of ways I can make the strips of cut silk into a single piece of ‘yarn’.

I can spin it together and then hold it together a little more with a ply of silk thrums thread.

I can do a splice and spin it as a single which allows for the little tails to become a design element in the yarn.

This is the tails and tops method of joining

or I can just weave it in as a rag technique and alternate with the silk thrums. In the end, I’m going to call it art yarn and who will challenge the inconsistency of the yarn!

All fabric that is used in our daily lives will wear out, but when it comes to a fiber that is so costly to make, so valuable and lovely I want to put the extra effort into keeping it out of the rag bag for as long as possible. Most, if not all fabrics can be given a second life before they can be purposed as rags. The ingenuity of our predecessors was impressive and there is no reason not to emulate them. Sheets, curtains, judo gis, towels, suits can all be remade into carpets, place-mats, cushion covers, dish rags, clothing material, blankets, quilts, scarves, the list goes on a long as your imagination permits. And yes rags, that’s a valid repurpose.

My plan for these red and orange silk kimonos and the red silk thrums is to weave material for a medium weight jacket for the winter. Something very simple in design, similar to a kimono but without any fitting or lining. My cousin in Japan is hunting an obi or two for me to use as trim. Hopefully this will be functional and attractive once I can solve the problem of the silk bleeding like crazy. But that is a challenge for another day.

Silk thrums easily dye wool and are difficult to control. Silk kimono also run their colour.

 

Not all the kimono could be cut, at least not by me.  This is going to be a project for another day.

 

Meet the Supplier: The Olive Sparrow

Meet the Supplier: The Olive Sparrow

Fibre 3, 2, 1

Q-3 Three types of fibre you can’t live without?

  1. Swiss Mountain Sheep (Walliser Sheep – Valaise Blacknose —

I just love this fibre because it makes both amazing wet and needle felted items. It comes in batt format in 49 dyed and 9 natural colours. At 27 micron it is a rougher fibre and has a moderate staple length of 3-5cm.

I fell for this fibre not just because of its felting qualities, but also because the product is made by happy sheep that spend their summers up in the high Swiss alps — travelling on ancient roman roads to get there. After they are shorn in a traditional manner, the wool is transported to a small Swiss family business where it is washed only with washing soda (aka sodium carbonate or soda ash is a natural cleaner and a powerful water softener. It’s very basic with a pH of 11). The washing process is environmentally friendly and the wastewater is safely returned to the local mountain stream. The wool is dyed carefully and without any harsh chemicals — using just natural vinegar and acid dyes. The wool is dried outside on warm metal roofing (weather permitting). In winter the warmth created by the dyeing process is used to heat the building.
The fibre is exceptionally clean as the carding machines have special vacuums installed to remove VM (Vegetable Matter naturally occurring in sheep fleeces) and ensure it doesn’t get back into the wool.

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Due to the ease of felting with Swiss Mountain Sheep wool, kids love working with it. The fibre can also be laid out very thin to create transparent felts.

Combine Swiss Mountain sheep with Maori or other Bergschaf yarns. You can also combine it with 18/19 micron to create an inner layer that is next to skin soft when making garments. I love making slippers with an inner layer of 18/19 micron merino batt or Kap Merino and the outer layer being Swiss Mountain, combining softness with hard wearing wool.

 

  1. Yak and Mulberry Luxury Roving

A custom blend made for The Olive Sparrow — this is a commercially triple-blended roving/top which mixes the silk with the yak to create a lovely variegated roving. Although it requires some gentle coaxing to wet felt due to the high content of mulberry silk, the resulting felt is an absolute dream to wear right next to the skin.

The yak fibre is naturally fawn coloured, the mulberry silk is undyed.

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To produce yak fibre for felting, the soft fine under hair is the desirable element of this animal’s coat and is removed commercially by dehairing, which separates the soft under hair from the coarse outer hair, known as guard-hair.

This also makes a lovely spun yarn.

Using acid dyes on this fibre is very interesting — the yak and its brown/yellow undertones combined with the undyed silk to absorbs colours differently and will make mottled/variegated tones. As the fibre is very fine, it lends itself to be dyed after felting or spinning.

 

  1. Mint Fibre

The fibre length is 75-80mm.

I love using mint fibre in the same way as mulberry silk — the softly off-white colour and the slight mat sheen give a look between the extra shiny mulberry silk and the much softer gloss of tussah silk.

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Mint is a new biodegradable cellulose fibre that is infused with mint powder that is extracted from peppermint leaves. It does not smell of mint and has a lovely soft and cottony texture. This soft golden fibre has antibacterial properties and natural cooling properties. Mint infused roving can be dyed using natural plant dyes and mordants or other dyes suitable for cellulose fibres. Perfect for spinning and blending with fibres such as cotton, silk, wool and Linen. Great surface inclusion for wet felting. A wonderful vegan needle felting alternative.

 

Q-2 Two tools you use all the time?

 

I use my ball brauser — I generally have two on the go at the same time. I also love the hand-pumped vegetable sprayers from the garden centre to wet-out large areas. When doing a sculptural piece, handheld massage tools make shrinking of specific areas very fast. Thin painter’s plastic as one layer on bubble wrap — and I always use the bubble side down when initially starting to felt.

Q-1 One fibre art technique you love the most?

Having been blessed with learning handwork techniques from grade 2 onwards, my arsenal of techniques means that I often will blend them all together in a project. Because of the shop keeping me quite busy and still being needed as a mother, most of my creative time I spend making dolls or knitting simple items. Yet especially in doll making, I frequently wet felt garments for the dolls. Doll making lets me use all my skills. In wet felting, I love making long voluminous shawls — generally using at least a 4m length and 30” width. I also love working with Teeswater locks — washing, sorting, dying them. I sew them into wefts for my dolls and use them as fringes in shawls.

 

General Questions

What is your business?

 

The Olive Sparrow.

Good Hand-Made Goods made by You and Me

Here is a bit of background information about how this all came to be:

The Olive Sparrow is me, Monika Aebischer, I am a felter and a natural fibre doll artist. I quite proudly call myself a crazy when it comes to collecting books about wet and needle felting.  In a previous life, I was a mixed media artist with work in galleries across Canada. Sadly during the 2008 financial crash, the art market collapsed and I was forced to re-invent myself. As I had fallen in love with felt making during my student years at the Ontario College of Art and Design and had taken some wet felting workshops in Switzerland, it seemed to be the right direction to go. It also worked very well with my doll making — I needle felt the heads of my dolls and also make felted clothing for some of them. While growing up in Switzerland as part of my apprenticeship in selling women’s clothing, I studied fibres and textile manufacturing.

 

 

The Olive Sparrow shop started as a way to bring supplies to my felting students — I taught a 5-day felting intensive workshop at Loyalist College for 4 years every summer from 2011 – 2015. Every year I would import specialty felting fibres from Europe for my students. These students then wanted to purchase fibre after the workshop. Learning that there are several Fibre Festivals around Ontario made me realize that there was an opportunity to share these fibres with other felters. My painting studio slowly turned into a shop — alongside my selling on Etsy. I decided that the shop was going to focus on Felting supplies and not be another general fibre shop. I also decided that the focus will be on European felting fibres, rather than local fibres.

 

After 20 years in that space, I was forced to move in 2018, as the old building was being turned into condos. Now located in the East end of Toronto, the shop is in an industrial building — and open by appointment. There are about 600 square feet full of fibre, commercial 100% wool felt, Waldorf doll supplies, Sajou notions from France and select other items. The shop is also somewhat flexible, in that it can be transformed into a workshop space for 1-3 students.

Before we were in this Pandemic, the Olive Sparrow could be found at various fibre festivals — Twist, Picton, Woodstock, Peterborough, Knitter’s Frolic, Kitchener/Waterloo knitters festival, and other smaller events. 2020 has meant a focus on building out the online presence and extending inventory.

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What kind of items do you sell?

Too many to list, however, here is a sampling —

18/19 micron roving in over 100 colours

24 Micron roving

Swiss Mountain Sheep batt

Kap Merino

19 micron merino Batt

Pre-felt (both in 40 x 40 cm sheets) and by the meter

Margilan silk

Maori and Maori/Bergschaft batt

100% wool felt by the sheet and many colours by the meter

Unicorn Power Scour

Premium locks – Teeswater extra length

Wool felt balls/hearts/stars from Nepal

Silk – Mulberry, Tussah

Viscose

The Olive Sparrow is an official DHG Dyehouse reseller — carrying all of the pre-felt colours, as well as an extensive selection of 19 micron roving, 19 micron batt, sari silk waste, mulberry silk and a variety of other fibres.

 

What do you think makes your business different from similar ones?

Unique premium products from Europe — all our goods are imported from Europe. Volume discounts to help small-scale makers. Teaching workshops – private and customized — creativity counselling. Very hands-on knowledgeable. A brick and mortar shop that is open by appointment and sells online.

Where are you located?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada – at 19 Waterman Avenue — which is an industrial area just south of Eglinton and just off the Don Valley Parkway.

 

Where can we find you on the internet?

www.theolivesparrow.com

 

Monika is doing 2 Giveaways

To enter leave a reply below. Do not post your email but make sure there is one associated with your post. You can’t win if we cant reach you. The two winners will be announced on June 4th

 

Giveaway #1 — 100 grams of premium washed Teeswater locks 12″ undied/unsorted ready for you to decide what you want to do.

Giveaway #2 – 150 grams of Swiss mountain batt (you can choose the colours if your name is chosen)

Finishing the Flax  2020 Flax study group

Finishing the Flax  2020 Flax study group

I promise we are almost done, but I suspect you wanted to see the culmination shots from this year’s harvest!

This year we had planted two rows of flax, which did not look too excessive until we started to harvest it. Even with the flax being shorter this year, we still doubled the number of stocks we were dealing with. So, it took 3 Saturdays to finish the processing of the line this time. We did not finish all the tow into batts, there is a small bag of hackle waste left. This year we kept the best feeling drum carder waste to try combing the tow into top.

We were chilly but from Cathy Louise’s research, we needed dry, low humidity conditions for the final part of the process. Other than Remembrance Day on the 11th, which often rains, it is usually dry and cold in November here. Thus, we waited to work on it.  Sure enough, day 3 was about 4 degrees Celsius, which was quite nice in the sun but quickly lost its illusion of warmth when the sun hid out behind clouds.

Day 3  the plan – get the last of the Line through the hackles and finish tow from the hackle waste with drum carders.  We had Ann’s drum carder with the blue metal base from last week and Glenn had pulled out my two. One is chain driven; the other is belt driven. One is a bit coarser than the other but both are in the medium range.

 1 all 3 drum carders to finish the tow

To work on the line we had a coarse, medium and fine set of homemade hackles using nails. They had a hardwood base that had been predrilled before the nails were added. We also had an antique one that was between the medium and fine ones. The old one had blacksmith-made nails that tapered and had tin on the base.

 2 all the hackles

3-6  The New Hackles

    

7-11 the old hackles

While we worked, we compared last year’s line to this year’s. The colour is different and this years is finer (last years is in the plastic bag).

   

12- 19 working on the line and tow

The team worked hard until lunch arrived (more pizza). Glenn joined us after stopping at the farmers market to pick up butter tarts from Ann, it was very busy so he was running late and just in time for pizza.

 20  in the foreground; Cheese and mushroom pizza, mid-ground; flax going from the course to the medium hackles and in the background; the hackle waste to go to the drum carder.

The Cow supervisors were enjoying the weather and just generally looking cute decoratively draping themselves around the field beside the coverall barn.

 21 the Supervisors taking a break

Back to work finishing the last bit of line and deciding to leave the last of the hackle waste.

  

22-24 the last of the line

It was time to clean up the drum carders then gather and weigh the culmination of our summer’s work. Henry had brought the air compressor over to help clean the drum carders. It was a brilliant idea.  I do not think my carders have ever been so clean.

   

25- 27 Cleaning the Drum carders

Now it was time for the bagging and weighing. Cathy Louse had brought a scale and I had one of my wool washing buckets which we used to contain the fibre on the scale.  As Cathy Louse weighed it, Glenn wrote it down on the bag and Ruthann kept notes on the totals.

  

28-30  doing the math

We divided the line into 8 sections of 33 grams, bagged and labelled it.

31-34 Line bagged and ready to go

When the line was divided, we moved on to the batts of tow.

   

35-37 bagging the batts of tow

That left a bag of waste from the hackles that could be drum carded later and two bags of the waste from the drum carder. This we had set aside to try combing it since the test sample looked like it had potential.

Now for the Totals you have been waiting for!

Ruthanne said we got 271 grams of line, 556 of carded tow, 130 grams of uncarded tow and 573 grams of carder waste that we can try to comb and see what we get.

Cathy Louise and Henry calculated that we got 1530g of useable fibre from 400 square feet. Henry did the math and figured if we had done a full acre we would have had 29.52 Kg of line per acre and Carded tow 76.5Kg per acre.  If we tried an acre we would have to add Sundays as well as Saturdays or we would be working at it all winter! We would likely improve with all the practice but it’s still a lot of work!

We had a larger team than the final processing day. Some wanted to experience what it was like to process flax trying some or all of the steps. some were interested in the fibre to try spinning while others were not. It was a wonderful experience to be able to participate in.  It was especially welcome to look forward to seeing friends during the fibre work parties, especially during covid!  Thank you again to Cathy Louise and Henry for giving up a section of their Market garden, doing the ground prep and planting and the aromatic section of retting that we missed.  Thank you also to all the other members of the Flax Study Group 2020.

 38 the team for the final processing, Glenn taking the picture this time!

Year 2 Flax Study Group, The Violent bit’s at the end!

Year 2 Flax Study Group, The Violent bit’s at the end!

A review of year 2 so far

This year the flax study group planted the seed we had harvested from last year. We had enough to double our planting and had 2 rows planted this year. We had 2 covid-modified weeding parties at 4 to 6 inches of growth but without the wonderful cake to celebrate successful weeding!

 1-2

The first part of the summer was very dry and hot so the flax was ready earlier than anticipated. We left the harvested bundles of Flax resting against the garden fence to dry.

 3-5

Then the weather turned and it rained and rained and rained. (I should not have been trying to wash those fleeces in the side yard! See the blog post about sentient weather.) The flax started its retting while it tried to dry. Once it had finally dried enough, we were back out (August 29th) to extract seed from stock. The seeds this year are MUCH smaller than last years, and lighter in weight. The seed pods were definitely ready to pick but the dry weather was hard on the plants (shorter in stature and smaller seeds). We used a number of seed extraction methods.  The double rakes were great and the pillowcases and rolling pins were effective too. Unfortunately, winnowing (using the wind to seperate chaff from seed) was not working, not much wind and the seed was as light as the chaff) we had the best success with Henrys Sieves from the grain silos. (Brilliant idea Henry!!)

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Next the Flax, now de-seeded, went to the spa. (large trough of water with therapeutic cinderblocks to hold it under!) With the retting complete, we were ready to move on to the violent part of the process; Brakes, Skutching and the lovely Hackles! We set a date in November that we hoped most of us would be available to meet again at Cathy Louises’ coverall barn (the part the cows don’t live in! They are very cute cows but I don’t want to have to share the flax with them)

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Now that we are all caught up again, let’s get to the best part of Flax processing; the vicious violent bits!

11/07/2020 Covid canceled our Guild sale but that leaves the Saturday free to start in on the flax. We met at the coverall barn on a fabulously wonderful un-fall-like day. It was so nice we worked in front of the barn, enjoying mild weather, the sun and no rain!

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Step 1 Braking;

The first step was braking the flax stocks to loosen and start the removal of the outer stock covering (the boon) from the long inner fibres which will become the linen. Bernadette, Ann and Cathy Louise experimented with hand braking before sending it to the brake but that was not as helpful as we had hoped.  If you did not have access to a flax brake this may be an option for you but it would take a lot of working the stocks to loosen the boon.

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Glenn and Gord were our main brakers this year. Glenn’s knee has been bothering him (postal work has not been diminished by Covid) so he quickly gave up on standing and has perfected the seated braking position.

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We had a couple of flax videos posted on our OVWSG flax study group Facebook page they were unfortunately in German (about Hackling) and in Russian about braking. From the video, Glenn modified his technique on the second Saturday to add scraping movements to the end of the braking. This seemed to make the next step a little easier.

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The technique seems to be to hold the root end, start at the tip (where the seeds were) and brake towards the roots flipping which side of the bundle is facing up. This first pass was done vigorously. Then work from the tip towards roots a little at a time still flipping the bundle but scraping gently each section as it is finished. Then flip and work the roots, which often broke off.

  23 the fibre is handed off to the next step

Step 2 Skutching;

As we got going, we had two primary brakers and 2-3 skutchers and the rest of us were on Hackle duty or taking photos. Skutching is a percussive movement hitting or flicking the stocks to loosen and remove as much of the outer layer as possible. The Skutching team were finding that splitting the bundle (by gently tugging on the ends) then reorienting the stocks parallel and continuing to skutch was effective.

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   30 fibre is sent to the next step

There was an intermittent breeze that kept depositing fibre into the shrubberies. (Sort of like pre-Christmas tinsel) I am sure the birds were sorry we didn’t do this part in the spring.

 31-33 Early Christmas tincil

Step 3 Hackles!!

The next step is my favourite part, the Hackles. They’re like a very sharp multi-pitch Viking comb that is clamped to the table. The flax is dragged through the top of the sharp pointy bloodletting teeth, removing even more of the boon. I watched the German video about Hackles, it was highly informative even with my only random words of German. He definitely was adamant about the angle, I think? I tried to mimic his diagonal pull through with change of direction on exiting the hackles. I also tried the flipping one side up then the other for each pass. This left the flax quite clean.

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The hackling starts through the coarsest teeth then moves to finer and finer. Each step removes more boon. I was able to take out a few stubborn bits by flicking at them with a fingernail. We also were drafting off the hackles as the tow built up in it. The remnants still trapped in the comb, we bagged to process with the drum carder next week.

 44 some of the line

Just so you don’t think we were horribly overworked, we did break for Pizza

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We did quite well today but only got about half way through the harvest, well we did double the planting we did this year! So far, the flax is short but very fine. We bagged the tow for next week and made little stricks of the line. We did do a lot of work but it doesn’t show from the pile remaining!

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Some of the flax has a distinct hue of green.  The rest looks very familiar.

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11/14/2020  Day 2, similar in process to day 1 but with less sun or good temperatures.

It was much colder today, still no fluffy solid rain or serious cloud dandruff, yet (Yeah!!) so we moved into the coverall to work. The hacklers were by the barn door, while it provided great light there was a cool breeze. We continued to work on the braking and finished it off, leaving one bundle to compare with last years. We continued working on the skutching and hackling and added making batts with the tow.

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Our tow team today was Deborah and Cathy Louise.

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Deborah and Cathy Louise worked together to make batts of the tow.  We tried one pass but decided to try a second pass which was markedly improved.  They tried a third pass, but it was deemed very similar to the second pass. We found the waste from the drum carder to be very soft and have kept it.   We tried hand combing it with small 2 pitch hand combs with a good test result. We will collect the carding waste and comb it later.  Using the drum carder caused a lot of the chaff/boon to drop out underneath it.

    67-68 first and second pass

    69-70 Second and third pass

  71-72 Drum carder waste combed

We compared last year’s plant after retting to this year and saw a difference in height and this year’s plants are much finer in the stock. They were planted about 2 weeks earlier, but also harvested earlier than last year. We did not harvest too soon since the plants had flowered and were producing seeds so it was the correct time to harvest. It was extremely dry this summer until we harvested then it rained, a lot!

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We got most of the skutching finished today too.

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We bagged up the batts of tow we created today. We will be weighing the amounts of line and tow we have created likely next week.

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We will be back to work for our last day of processing this year next Saturday. There is a bit more to hackle then all the tow to process. When we are done, we will weigh out the tow and line and see what our yield was this year. Although the flax was definitely reduced in height the fineness of the fiber is spectacular, even the tow is soft and quite nice. I am looking forward to getting one of the flax wheels upstairs and put to work spinning part of this year’s harvest.

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The spot we had the flax growing this summer is turned for winter and garlic has been planted there. It has been an amazing experience working with the flax team. Next year is a bit up in the air, we will hope to be changing planting locations or we may wind up taking a summer off.

 

3rd Quarter Challenge and Summer Poker Challenge in One.

3rd Quarter Challenge and Summer Poker Challenge in One.

My guild does a summer poker challenge every summer. first, you pick weaving or spinning or new this year felting. You pick 3 cards from a deck of cards to find out your challenge for the summer. The idea is to get you to try something you wouldn’t usually do.  I picked my card in June. I got blue, cotton and metallic.  Then Lyn and Annie announced the 3rd quarter challenge of a personal item to keep you warm. There is more about the challenge here:

2020 Third Quarter Challenge

The first thing I did was dye some open-weave cotton I had.  You can read more about that here in this blog post I did:

Cotton dyed and some new fibre.

All the pictures will open larger if you click on them.

My plan is to make a lightweight poncho for cool evenings. This requires a big layout. the start is 4feet by 4feet. I put the first layer of cotton down and decided to use thin plastic for the resist so it would roll up easily. I don’t need to feel the edge of the resist like you do making a hat.

I added the second piece of cotton and sewed around the edge using big basting stitches.

Then I took it all out and overlapped the edges and sewed it up again. The edge will be visible on the inside and I didn’t want the seam sticking out.

All sewn together

Next, I added a very thin and not perfectly neat, layer of medium blue. I want the cotton to show through. Then started adding the embellishments. Sorry about the pictures not being great but I am holding my phone as high up as I can, trying to get an overall shot.

This one is a bit better. Mostly the embellishments are wool in different colours.  I added the metallic threads to take care of that part of the poker challenge but didn’t get a good picture.

These are the 2 sparkly nylons I used for the metallic part of the challenge; bronze and steel. I only used a little. I don’t want to sparkle very much.

Next is wet it all down, and start felting- rubbing and rolling.

When it was starting to shrink I opened one corner to be the hole for the head and opened the bottom 2 sides.

Here it is finished.

And the cotton sides

Here are some closeups

The cotton side

The wool side

And the metallic bitts, they don’t shrink so they get wiggly.

I am very happy with the result. The wool separated out and let the cotton show through. It has a nice light feel and I think it invokes the feel of moving water or ripples on a pond. It should work well for cool nights.

More sewing shenanigans (but still no waistcoat)

More sewing shenanigans (but still no waistcoat)

If you’ve been following my waistcoat sewing adventures, you’ll know I was fairly optimistic I’d have a finished (or, more advanced) garment to show you by now.

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Here she stands, in a corner, mocking me…

The thing is… I’ve hit a snag. After finding out the shoulder area needed more work, and realising the pattern I’d bought was more or less useless, I got discouraged. The major mental roadblock was finding out I’ll probably need to remove all the tailor interlining I’d hand sewn in order to fix the shoulder problem; also knowing my pattern-making skills are still in their infancy and therefore can’t be trusted, isn’t helping.

Of course, I’m nothing if not a great procrastinator, and therefore do have something new to show you.

In my free time (ok, when I’m stressed) I managed to follow a commercial pattern and make a new rabbit, as well as her garments.

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She’s got a lovely dress as well as some cute boots, plus a very proper-looking jacket!
The jacket was the most complicated make (I also found a couple of tiny instruction mistakes) but the most fun. She looks cozy, doesn’t she?

I had some leftover material and decided to create a smaller version of the bunny. I’m still undecided on gender. This is important as it will define the wardrobe. What do you think, boy rabbit or girl rabbit?

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Made from scraps of felt. I’ll probably change those weird eyes!

I had my bunny family sitting on a shelf in my studio. They looked alright there, but… incomplete.

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My studio library isn’t fibre-centric at all…

Suddenly I remembered I had a pattern for an armchair, part of the rabbit collection. It looked both complicated enough to be entertaining and simple enough to be finished in a short amount of time. I had to make two.

Well… the pattern had a couple of mistakes (this is starting to become a thing with me, isn’t it?) so I did have to take some time away from it after realising I’d cut the fabric too short in some places. After some consideration, a solution presented itself and I managed to finish one armchair.

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I did it in patchwork fashion for a trendy look. I’d never done this type of fabric assembly before, so if there’s anyone reading who understands how it works, feel free to point out any mistakes I might have made.

All in all, I think it came out quite decent, and my rabbit looks comfy and elegant sitting on it.

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Now… there’s a tiny bit of felting to be had in this story. See the chair’s rounded arms? The pattern tells me to use some wool batting, roll it up and hand sew in place. I had a better idea: I receive a weekly food box that has an insulating padding made of recycled bottles, and I thought, “this would be a great way to reuse it!” Will it felt, though? I brought out my needles, had a go, and success!

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Needle felted plastic, who would’ve guessed?

This will be going in the other armchair that I haven’t finished yet. Wish me luck, I hope this second one comes out looking similar, or I’ll have to create a story in my head as to why one rabbit is more deserving of comfort than the other…

So… maybe next post I’ll have a waistcoat? Don’t hold your breath, but fingers crossed.

What have you been up to lately? Any miniature furniture sewing? Tell me all in the comments section.

 

First Mer-Pet

First Mer-Pet

First Pet for the Mer’s (“it followed me home, can we keep it?” begged Mer-Teen “Only if you take it for walks and clean its litter box” replied Mrs Mer.)

This has again been a busy week. We were off to see if the walker had arrived on Friday and found out that they had received 2 walkers they hadn’t ordered and not the one I had ordered. So maybe it will be this week.  Saturday we had a trip out the Farmers Market at the log farm not too far away from home. Ann and her Husband have a booth there. (go for the butter tarts, stay for the cookies, sausage, meat pies, bread …. And that is just at Ann’s booth. Ann is multi- talented!!)

 

    1-4

 

I added the fingers and hands to my Mer-Teen and worked on musculature for the forearms  I did a bit more musculature on the tail giving it vestigial quads, Knees, gastrocs and even Glutes (I may have to upgrade the gluteal endowment on her parents!! They are sadly lacking.) I now have the under-structure about to the stage I want for the Mer’s. So I ordered some coriadail.  Most were for possible skin tone blending from our local fibre store, Wabi Sabi on Wellington St.  They were doing order on-line with pick-up 2 days a week. Glenn kindly said he would go fetch the fibre for me.

 

 5-6

While I was waiting for the fibre pick-up day to arrive, I considered possible pets that the Mer’s should have. So I browsed Google image for sharks and found I liked the great white and the huge one that had some particularly good photos taken of her.

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Armed with a substantial selection of sharkness from many different angles I set to work building an armature. Using the aluminum wire from the dollar store I made a basic skeleton with lower jaw, pectoral, dorsal, second dorsal and caudal fins.

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Working from the same, now quickly shrinking batt of alpaca, (thanks Ann!! I hope you find another one you don’t want!), I started at the head/jaw and worked towards the tail.  As you can see, I was watching Sara’s Felt along flowers while building a juvenile great white shark.  Just to the right is my photo reference to help me get the jaw and head the right shape.

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After the felt along was finished I switched back to playing Runescape while felting (Multitasking!! That is my greatly missed Dog’s character in the gold armor. I got him an account because it wasn’t fair that the cat got to have an account and he didn’t.) You can see I have reached the pectoral fins and the nose angle and jaw line are now closer to realistic.

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Eventually I put on an audio book and really made some progress. Now I’m only a few fins short of a shark.

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A quick break for gardening and it was on to the missing bits to finish her off.

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So now I have the Mer-teen under layer reasonably close to what I was hoping for and the female juvenile great white shark under layer done .  I have one more pet underway but I will show you that later.

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Today I was off to Wabi Sabi to pick up my wool order (Coriadail and Shetland). I separated each colour into its own bag with a tag so I can reorder, as I get low. (This will help a lot since I don’t always remember where I got a fibre)

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Tomorrow I am hoping to start some colour blending, now that I think I have the base colours I want to work from. I still have to find the alpaca I was looking for and part of that bump of white South American coriadale I got quite a few years ago. I think I saw them in the living room last, now where could they be hiding?

 

Stay healthy and keep your hands in warm soapy water with wool.

 

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2020 Flax project year 2 (Coronas Virus version)

2020 Flax project year 2 (Coronas Virus version)

Last fall we harvested and processed the flax grown over the summer. As part of the process, we removed the seeds from the stocks. We got quite a bit of seed. Some of which will be used to make flax-dressing (also known as elephant snot). It is a truly disgusting mucus looking substance that makes spinning flax much easier. But you don’t need very much to make a reasonable quantity so we ended up with more seed than we started with. Since everyone wanted to have a second year of the project, we put aside most of the three harvestings of seeds.

Technical details

– First, and largest harvest, was expected to yield the finer flax but less ripe seeds (500g)

– Second and third harvest were a smaller patch we had kept in reserve to check the increase in coarseness of the fibre and to obtain fully mature seeds. (550g)

At the density planted last year this would allow us two rows and some left over for flax dressing.

 

April 25th 2020 – a beautiful day at Cathy Louise and Henry’s Farm

Flax 1 1 Henry with the two flax plots

The ground is free of snow, has been tilled and Cathy Louise and her husband Henry plant the seeds in two  4′ X 50′ plots.  The east plot is on the left and has the second and third harvests seeds (550g), the west plot on the right has the first harvest seed (500g).

By May 8th 2020 , undaunted by late snow flurries, the seeds are sprouting and looking like a green mist on the ground!

Flax 2-east side 2 East plot – second and third harvests seeds

Flax 3-west side 3 West plot – First harvest seeds

4-5 Close ups of seeds

 

May 18th 2020 (the long weekend for those of us who are getting lost in as to the date), Cathy Louise checks the progress of the flax.

flax 6 east side 6 East plot – second and third harvests seeds

Flax 7 West side  7 West plot – First harvest seeds

At this point, it looks like the first harvest seeds may be a little slower or have a slightly lower germination rate but they are pretty close.

 

May 28th 2020, Next growth check. The flax is 4 inches tall and filling in

Flax 8 the east side   8 East plot – second and third harvests seeds (some of Cathy Louise’s Market garden is visible to the left of the plot.)

Flax 9 the west side  9 West plot – First harvest seeds

 

The weeds are starting to show and are about the same height as the flax. It is time to call in the weeding crew. We have a quick email chat about weeding dates at first booking the weekend so everyone can help out, possibly in shifts. It was quickly realized quite a few of us did not have plans for Monday! This time the ill fortune for many of us on reduced hours or off work completely is to our advantage! (Finally a good thing has arisen from all the bad.)

So adding masks to gardening equipment we will be heading out to see Cathy Louise and Henry on June 1st!

 

June 1st 2020, Weeding part 1 (we saw people we don’t live with!! it was wonderful!)

flax 10 10

We arrived at 10am and were impressed with the amount of growth from the flax. We quickly got to work.

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Looking at the flax we suspect we will increase the seed density next planting. At this point both plots look quite healthy. Here are a few close ups.

15-16 East plot – second and third harvests seeds

17-18 West plot – First harvest seeds

As you can see we had a number of different weeding techniques today. Glenn used his now traditional horizontal weeding position and Bernadette preferred the milk crate over the kneeling stool we had brought. We also had examples of kneeling and standing, with back supported by resting one arm on the upper leg (Quads). All techniques worked since you can see the carcasses of the extracted weed army littered about the valiant and triumphant weeders!!

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19-26 different weeding techniques

The rows, being quite long,  we all were able to keep socially distanced while still being able to chat. It was wonderful to see everyone. We got a good amount done but we wore out, let us say we made a strategic withdrawal from the field  before getting both rows fully free from the weeds. We hope to finish up the first batch of weeding on Saturday.

Here is today’s work crew. As we wearily wandered from the field leaving the flax, a few remaining weeds and the silent member of the group to watch over the flax, so no one nibbles on it before it’s ready for harvest.

 

flax 27 the socialy distanced foto of todays team!flax 28 close up of silent member of flax group

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