UFO sightings!

No, not flying objects (although Lake Huron did eat the frisbee on the weekend, whoops), but UnFinished Objects. Those projects that get started, often in a class, and then after a little or a lot of work on them, get put aside. Sometimes because you are wholly sick of them, sometimes because the next step is challenging and intimidating. Sometimes because you arsed it up and now it needs to sit in time out for an indeterminate amount of time to think about its wrongs. However it ends up there, it gets stuck in the UFO bin.


Literally an overflowing bin.

A few folks decided it was time to face the bin, and a few more of us jumped on that bandwagon. No competition, and no judgement if things go awry, just support for facing old projects that either need to be finished, or passed on to someone else (or the bin. Some projects never emerge from the time out corner.) A great many of my projects in the UFO bin ended up there  because I took six months off from knitting and needlework, and even still shouldn’t do /that/ much at any one given time. I haven’t included any of the ‘wanna do!’ projects in my UFO list, although my warp weighted loom project is rapidly becoming a UFO, which might encourage me to work on it again. So many projects, so little time and energy. The story of everyone’s life.

So of course, June’s UFO projects were mostly knitting and sewing. Because /that/ was a good idea. </sarcasm> There’s spinning in there too! Forgive the modern knitting, the bin is more than half modern projects, so UFO posts are not going to wholly period crafts.

Side comment.. I’ve just walked into something I routinely tsk at others about when talking A&S. There’s nothing wrong with modern projects, and even more so when it’s a modern project of a period skill. You are still shoving XP into that skill! My knitting skill is still improving even though it’s a wholly modern sock, and that skill increase will translate beautifully when I next do a period knitting piece. Sewing myself a skirt to wear to work absolutely helps my confidence in using the sewing machine for my next piece of garb. Not every project you do needs to be pentathlon suitable. (Excuse me while I repeat that a few more times just to remind myself.)

June had modest goals for UFO progress. Turn the heel of the sock in progress, and get all the pieces of an under-tunic hemmed by hand. I did not consider, when making June’s goals, the reality of a 4 day gaming convention in the middle of June. So the reality looks like a tunic hemmed and assembled and just needing final finishing, and a finished sock. (Sorry, no tunic photos. Think of a white linen t-tunic. There ya go. Looks like that.) And then my arms had comments to make about spending 4 solid days doing things that tick off my tendonitis. Second sock goes back into the bin (I am wholly and utterly sick of the pattern anyhow, it needs a time out) and finishing of that tunic is going to have to wait for July.


It’s a sock! It even fits!

UFO bonus round.. spinning! The Corriedale is almost done (and terrible. I will be glad to see the arse end of it. So nubby and fuzzy and grrargh), and the silk is eternal, because I never work on it. It is on tap as one of July’s UFO projects. I want to knit with that silk, dammit! (Yes, I have 1000 knitting projects in queue, but somehow this one is urgent. It’s really not, but forgive me my delusions about project queues).


Wool and silk.

So what’s your UFOs? Or are you a mythical crafts type who finishes what you start?

Black Sope

This was part of the plan for Kingdom A&S in March. I had acquired the wood ashes (surprisingly challenging when one lives in the heart of suburbia without a fireplace), I’d even managed to drip my lye by the time KA&S rolled around in March.


Homemade lye

Let me back up a step to talk about lye. That’s the hazardous part of soap making that scares a great many people off. (Yes, it will burn you. Treat it with the respect it deserves. Gloves are smart, don’t breathe the fumes, but equally don’t freak out and run screaming. You got this.) Lye is the basic (alkaline) part that makes saponification go. Saponification, in a super quick nutshell, is the chemical reaction that happens when fats and bases get together and produce soap (and some other stuff). There will be a much bigger post about saponification after I finish writing that class about it that I’m teaching at Trillium Wars. <counts days, has a quiet erk. Right!>

Modernly, you go to the hardware store, look in the plumbing section and bring yourself home a bottle of lye crystals. (Or you go to Amazon, cause Amazon.). That’s Sodium Hydroxide, and it’s pretty stable in crystal form. (Wear gloves. Don’t sniff deeply, don’t lick it.) It makes the lovely firm bars of soap that we all know and love. It’s also challenging to get in a medieval context. Not impossible, just challenging. Period lye was Potassium hydroxide generally, and much, much easier to get your hands on. Hardwood ashes + water = potassium hydroxide. Potassium hydroxide makes a soft soap, not quite liquid soap, but goopy that never really sets up hard. There wasn’t much in the way of pH meters hanging about, so the strength of your lye was determined by how well it floated an egg. (Interestingly, the strength of brine.. also determined by egg floating. Eggs are darn useful things, and tasty too! Do not eat the egg you floated in lye. Just saying.)

Right! So I dripped my (distilled) water through the hardwood ash and came out with lye. I even diluted it to the required strength for a mild soap. (My soap making directions all came from Mistress Elska who knows more about period soap than anyone else I know. Go read all of her awesome. She’s super cool.) As much lye above the egg as below it. Perfect.


pH testing magic

And then life happened. And we all know how that goes, and suddenly it was June and I wanted period soap to try washing some fleece with. Ha! Incentive to get this cooked up. A quick pH test showed my diluted lye was at least pH 9 (the indicator I used only goes to 9 and my pH meter was hideously uncalibrated and I was out of calibration solutions. The woe of the modern alchemist who wasn’t planning ahead.), so not wholly dead yet, but I had some concerns. Liquid lye isn’t the most stable of things, it’ll degrade pretty good. The recipe called for 3 parts by weight lye to 1 part by weight fat. So my 927g of lye was going to get 309g of fat. I had some lard I rendered that needed using up, and then the other half of my fat was beef tallow.


Pork lard and beef tallow

Melt the fat, pour in the lye, give it a darn good whirl with the stick blender (yes, I could have done it by hand, but it was late) and let it wait overnight. Another good stir the next day and then the cooking started. I work in a crockpot, and remember that life thing that got in the way of using the lye in the first place? Right. It kept popping up for the cooking of the soap. It was getting cooked for a couple hours at a kick, and then I’d have to leave, so I’d turn it off again, and come back to it much later and start again. So it went, and then it was the night before I wanted it and it was STILL liquid and not soap. I was headed to bed, it looked like it was JUST barely starting to come together, and I asked my video game playing spouse to keep an eye on it, stir it now and then and turn it off when it looked like thick pudding, or vaseline.

I got up the next morning to a dark brown pot of charred goo. (Yes, he forgot and yes he apologized. Such is life, it isn’t the end of the world.)  I came >< close to just chucking it, but decided at the last moment to toss it in a plastic pot and bring it along to the event. At the very least, we could have a good laugh about my charcoal riddled goop. When I was washing out the crockpot, I noticed that it.. acted like soap. It melted like soap, it felt like soap between my fingers. Not classic soap, soap with the texture of playdoh and random crunchy bits, but certainly soap. Well, hunh.


Mind the crunchy bits.

Arrive to a group of awesome people and a swack of dirty fleece and we all have a snicker of the charred goop, and decide to try it. I mean, we’ve plenty of fleece to play with, a bit of ‘well that didn’t work’ isn’t going to be the worst. While I’d been off at other obligations, they’d already tried a laundry bar soap, some laundry detergent and just water to varying degrees of clean. So into the warmish water a clump of my goop goes, with a lot of swishing about to get it to dissolve. But it DOES dissolve! (Mostly. It really does need encouragement, and well.. one needs to pick out the charcoal bits, those don’t dissolve. <ahem>)

In goes some wool, and it gets a good swish about and hotting up and after a little while, a trip through the salad spinner. (Best. Thing. Ever for pre-drying your wool. Seriously. I needs me one.) And it’s white! It’s clean! Pretty and clean! Our tepid water was doing nothing to the lanolin, but the soap of epic fail did a darn fair job at washing the dirt out, I was most impressed.

<I forgot to take pictures of the wool. Picture pretty wool, all white and clean before carding or combing>

I will try and make it again with freshly dripped lye, and a lack of forgetting it to burn, and see what we get, but wowee, even with everything against it.. we got soap! Alchemy ftw!


Community is everywhere. It’s a notion that can come from physical proximity.. your neighbourhood, your canton, or shire or barony. It can come from shared interest.. the birding community, the fighting community, the A&S community. It can be in person, or from afar over social media (or post cards, or magazines, or discord channels.) All humans, even the most ‘grrr, I hate humans’ sort of introvert crave community on some level. We are social beasts, even if it’s just someone to hate humans with. You will never love everyone in your community, we’re all irritatingly fallible humans, many with somewhat questionable social skills, but that’s the nature of the beast, and ideally when we all put on our grownup pants, we manage to at least get along. (This is not a post about abusive or toxic members of the community, that’s a whole different conversation.)

Some communities come together very naturally in the SCA context. Fighters and fencers need each other to practice. Pell work is all fine and good, but you don’t get very far without other people. Missile weapon folks, they have a lot more opportunity to work alone, but not very many people have the luxury of enough space (or legality) to be able to throw axes or shoot arrows in their backyard, so by and large, they gather where the targets are.

A&S can, and almost often is, done wholly alone, hidden away at home. Workshops and floor looms don’t travel well. Detailed fussy work, be it with brush and pigments or needle and thread require good light, concentration and a lack of the table getting knocked accidentally. Some folks can, and do, bring bits and pieces to work on with others. Craft days, or at events, but 90% of it happens at home. Often just with your own thoughts of ‘well this is crap’, and ‘wtf? That is totally not what the instructions said would happen’. We are, by and large, solitary creatures.. and often with the social skills that come from being solitary creatures. (I get excited and overshare and forget that shutting the heck up is totally a thing I can do. I’m not /good/ at it, but I can do it. Please do remind me as necessary. XD)

And then we all come together… at a display, or competition or class filled weekend, University, schola.. however one wishes to phrase it. Walking into one of those in full swing is like hitting a wall of creative energy.. edged with nerves as often as not. Even the most gentle of judging is still challenging for entrants and judges alike, and if it’s for something big.. war points, championships, pentathlons.. then there’s even more nerves. New teachers (and some experienced teachers) do not teach because it comes naturally, but because they love to share, and are utterly faking it when they look calm and relaxed in front of a group of people.

Probably the best example of this is walking into the A&S display at Pennsic. (Middle weekend, Sunday afternoon! Come visit!) Artisans from everywhere have brought what they’ve been working on, and most of them are there to chat about their work. Some of it is mind blowing in terms of skill and research and depth. Some of it is a tentative beginner foray into something, and you look at the artisan and see a mix of pride at their new skill and a hint of terror that someone is going to be that ‘mean judge of legend’ and harsh on their beginner work. There’s people asking questions and explaining what they’ve done, yet again. There’s the display you can barely get near and the one that most people barely glance at, either because it’s not colourful, or they’re the last on the row.

And I love it. I love every last bit of it. I love the ones bringing the lumpy spinning that they fought tooth and nail to get, and I love the ones who have giant display boards that are the culmination of a decade of research into one specific thing. I love the ones that I know nothing about, but get to watch someone light up with the same passion towards their craft as I do about bits of string. I love chatting with people, I love doing A&S consults when the EK folks will have me. (Have questions about how to improve? Be it your display, your work, your documentation, or how to quell some of the terror of competition.. sign up for a consult! Totally voluntary, it’s usually next to the registration table.)

Phew, I’m not sure where I was going with this, beyond how much I appreciate the A&S community. It’s not perfect, we’ve got challenges and toxic trolls too, but big picture, thank you. ❤

And if you got this far, here’s my elderly calico Dalla in a sunbeam.


To ply, or not two ply

Aww c’mon, I couldn’t resist! (Yes, I should have resisted, I know, I know.)

Another post about spinning, you’d even think that’s what I’ve been doing the most of lately, and you’d be absolutely correct. I got the messy miserable nubbly fuzzy batch of corriedale spun up and looked at the lumpy thick mess and decided on the spot that it was never going to be good weaving yarn, so I should just suck it up and ply it.

I usually leave my spinning in singles, such that I can then make the choice when I go to use it as to if I want to ply it or not. Knitting and embroidery prefer plied fibre, I think naalbinding agrees. It’s got more strength against abrasion, more resilience against being untwisted, and some of that extra energy has been mitigated. (I also strongly dislike plying, its another argument for leaving it as singles.)

Plying, for those who have only ever considered it in relation to toilet paper.. is much the same notion as TP, really. Singles yarn uses a single strand of spun yarn. It is spun either S or Z (counter clockwise, or clockwise) and everything has the same twist. (Unless your piece makes a deliberate choice to use S spun for part and Z spun for another part, but that’s a different conversation.) Two ply yarn takes 2 singles (spun the same direction) and then spins them together in the other direction. (2 Z singles held together and twisted together S is my usual.). You can do 3 or more plies, skies the limit really, or your sanity.

So singles have extra energy? What extra energy? When you release the tension on freshly spun wool, it doubles back on itself, making little curlicues of yarn with all the extra twist in the yarn, or what most knitters would call extra energy. (And providing you with a sneak peak of what your 2 ply yarn is going to look like.) You can tame it to some degree by leaving the wool wound up in a spool, or lightly weighted and then either steamed and left to dry, or just wait it out. It relaxes, doesn’t curl up on itself anymore. Until you get it wet (or steamy) and ka-sproing! It wants to curl back up again, and depending on what that yarn is doing, it may or may not be able to skew things.


Ka-sproing! Singles!

Knitting is a series of interconnected loops, and it has a lot of freedom to wriggle within the stitches. Knitting with singles tends to skew fairly dramatically, which can be fine if that’s the look you want, but most people prefer nice evenly straight knit stitches, and therefore use plied yarn. Embroidery tends to be well pinned down, but that abrasion factor is huge going through cloth, and singles tend to unspin just enough to want to disintegrate. There’s also the reality that plying gives another chance for thread that is somewhat uneven to even itself out, where thin patches line up with thicker spots. Sometimes you lose, and thick spots line up with thick spots, but overall, it tends to even out fairly well. Odds are in your favour, and all of that.

Weaving, however, puts the threads into a rather rigid structure, and forces them to stay there. The singles don’t really get to /go/ anywhere, re-energized or not, and so a lot of weaving is done with single ply yarn. It changes little, due to the structure already in place. It might take longer to weave, but less time than a spinner having to do more than twice the work. (For 50 metres of 2 ply, a spinner would need to spin 100 m of yarn, and then twist that 50 metres a /third/ time.. so 150 m of work, for 50 m of yarn. Boooooo. For a 3 ply yarn, they’d have to spin 150 metres, and the ply 50m, so 200 m work for 50m of yarn. You get the idea.)


Corriedale messy 2 ply

So, because of all of the fuzzy, and the thick and thin, and generally enh of this bat of corriedale, what little I had of the dark brown got plied up into a 2 ply yarn. There’s not much of it, and it’s going to go sit in stash ’til I think of something that wants not terribly soft yarn, but I have faith that something will come up eventually.