May is for counted work

May is actually for a lot of things, woah nelly, this month is a busy one! There’s the ongoing Peppermint Purple modern blackwork stitch along that comes out every Wednesday. I decided to sign up for a band weaving workshop (mercifully only three weeks, rather than four) that started May 1 (thank goodness inkle weaving is quick!). There’s the Athena’s thimble technique a month plan that I’m still keeping up with AND May has Fool in it, now virtually! Wowsa, that’s more than enough.

(Not to mention that silly full time job thing, and the fact that the garland on my door is still Easter and apparently we need to cook and eat food, like every day. More on that later this week.)

img_20200428_145611227

However! We’re here to talk about counted work, the next alphabetically in the Athena’s Thimble category list. (Also.. can we talk about how it’s May and we’re still in the C’s? Embroidery categories are not well spaced in the alphabet, just pointing that out.)

I love counted work. It’s a happy relaxing place for me, and has been since the counted cross stitch hey day in the 80s. (Which is, to be fair, where I started embroidering, so it holds a happy space in my heart. Get the snooty outta your soul now at the 80s collection of cross-stitch. Much like the knitting phase that came after it, it got a bajillion people with needle and thread to hand, and while some moved to the next trendy thing when it came up, some became devoted and brilliant embroiderers. Just because it’s popular doesn’t make it suck. Alright, rant over.)

001smallsmall

I went poking in some favourite and beloved model books from period. Because the late 1500s totally had printed pattern books, and they literally had charts of flowers and critters and edgings and whatever else your little heart desired to stitch (or knit, or weave, or .. that’s a different blog post!). The one I decided on was Federic Vinciolo – “Singvliers Et Novveaux Povrtraicts” . It was first printed in 1587, although this is a copy of the 1606 printing. I’ve already embroidered five of the critters in my sampler in 2016, and I solidly considered doing one of those again (I really did enjoy them!), but in scrolling through I found seasonal deities. And well, that decided it. So my counted work for the month is going to be all four, because I hate having free time.

img_20200502_075018884

Nitty gritty details for those curious about such things, I’m working in a single strand of 60/2 weaving silk on 30 count evenweave linen. It’ll be a snuggly fit into my 6″ square, but I’ve measured and counted and recounted and remeasured and it should fit. Two of the silks are dyed with cochineal (different mordants? I think? I wish I’d kept notes, but any tags on these skeins got lost), one with madder and one with weld. Everything has been dyed by me at one point or another. I have learned that 4 more years into middle age now requires a magnifier, where it didn’t in 2016. Woe. If you need me, I’ll be counting somewhere.

Fifty!

Pull up a seat and get a beverage, we’re going to wander off towards story time a moment. About a year ago, Master Brand and I got chatting at an event. The conversation wandered, as it usually does when we get talking (and often people back away slowly, but that is wholly besides the point), but it settled on the fact that both of us had blogs that were various degrees of neglected and how we both missed having that outlet to share what we’d been working on. So we came up with a challenge to each other. A blog post a month for AS 54! That seemed very reasonable, not terribly onerous, and well achievable.

img_20200320_072924163

Totally bribing you to read with cute cat photos.

It very quickly came clear that both of us were going to blow past a measly 12 blog posts in a year. I’m not sure how many Brand ultimately managed to write, but I was settling into something that was nearly weekly. So I thought to myself.. Self.. how about instead of 12 blog posts in AS 54.. we aim for 50 blog posts in AS 54! Assume that at least a couple weeks are going to be silly (Holidays, Pennsic..) but 50 is a nice round number, this seems doable.

And so.. off I went on my quest. And at various points, I was keeping up pretty well, and sometimes I got off track, but early in 2020 I counted up my posts and realized that I was nicely on track. I needed a couple extra beyond one a week, but that’s not /so/ bad.

img_20200425_194922936

How about cat and stuffie pictures?

And then the world kinda went a little off the rails and things got complicated. Not just in terms of working from home, and getting used to that, but it’s very hard to be creative and productive and to write about those things while most of your brain power is diverted off in other directions. So I assumed, like many things right now, hitting the mark was just not in the cards. Until I stopped and actually /counted/ last week and realized that I had 47 posts done. That was shockingly close to 50, and so you, dear readers, got inundated with three in quick succession so that I could hit my goal!

I have enjoyed this an awful lot, and I’m hoping you folks have too. I don’t post brilliant works of literature, and I never know if anyone’s actually interested, but it is a great motivator to work on things so that I have something to tell you about. I am absolutely planning on continuing in AS 55, even without a challenge from Master Brand. I’ve got some thoughts on new content, and there’s always the monthly embroidery pieces to share. May is counted work, and I’m super excited to tell you all about it. I periodically muse on joining the many people doing podcasts or youtube channels, but besides the fact that I am the least photogenic human, I’m not sure many of my tasks and projects are well suited to live streaming or video taping. There’s an awful lot of ‘and now we do this for 50 hrs while it doesn’t seem to change much’, which is not the most compelling of viewing.

img_20200320_182145478

One last cat picture, I promise I’m done.

Comments, critiques, suggestions and topic requests are always welcome. I appreciate when folks take the time to comment either here or on Facebook where I post the link. Onwards and upwards!

April is for Couching

You know, there are so many layers to that title, considering so many of us have spent April quite literally on our couches. (Not everyone, I know, and kudos to those keeping society running right now!) However, April was also all about couching and laid work in my year long sampling of the East Kingdom’s embroidery guild categories. There’s a classic extant couched piece, and it seemed a no brainer to just run with it. Enter the Bayeux Tapestry.

I went digging through, really giving a good look at the tapestry for the first time in a long time, possibly ever really, and noticed the little critters along the edges. And in particular the little gryphon who was perched there, sucking on a wingtip, looking as if really he just needed a blankie and a hug, and I found my critter for April.

03bayeu

And then life happened, and brains are jerks and I hemmed and hawwed and procrastinated for 3 weeks. I peered at the tab now and then. I looked at my printout, carefully manipulated to the right size. I considered the wool I’d pulled from stash to use. I put it all into a basket to have it nicely together, I got little Buddy traced onto my fabric. (And then washed my fabric because somehow it got a spot on it while sitting quietly on the table.. seriously world? Fine. Bah.) I read every tutorial online about Bayeux stitch I could find. I reconsidered my thread choices. I realized that it was too small for a hoop (I didn’t want to have hoop on the design, I really do hate hoops), so added extra fabric to the edges for the hoop to sit on. I even started plotting May’s project, telling myself that it’s okay if you skip this one and come back to it. Life really does go on. Get the easy win on May, and then come back and do bits and pieces on April’s, it’ll be fine, the embroidery world won’t hate you forever.

Then, me and myself sat down one morning over coffee for a little chat. A ‘hello brain, what’s the actual issue here’ and a significant period of navel gazing later, there was yarn in the needle and a ‘just go on, just do a couple stitches, then go get your evenweave for May’s project’. And somehow, by the time the coffee was done, there was a wing filled in. And it didn’t look awful. And apparently I still /did/ know how to choose thread and embroider, weird how I didn’t forget all that when the world got wonky.

img_20200423_085930423

It was possibly the most pathetic of messages to a couple of friends that I knew would sugar coat any critique to the point of frosted flakes (but still give the critique) with that first bit. I knew full well that I was not in a brain space for anything but sugar coated frosted bombs, but there was plenty of ‘good job!’ and ‘keep going!’ and so with reassurances in brain.. the rest of the piece came together literally in a few days.

img_20200426_154607554

I can see quite distinctly where I started getting the hang of things and I wouldn’t call it my best work. I really really wanted to use the red (more of my dye work although the other colours are not), even though it was half the size, but it worked up fine doubled. What it isn’t, is particularly good contrast, so it all looks very ‘the same’ in photos, and honestly is pretty subtle in real life too. Which is.. fine? It’s fine enough. It’s not spectacular, but it’s fine. I’ll take fine right now. Onwards and upwards!

Odds and sods

It feels like a great many of my posts could be titled this at the moment, although I’m grateful to be feeling a bit more like my creative self again. Apparently the whack a mole I’ve been trying to play with the brain weasels is working, for the moment. I was pretty sure I’d been doing nothing at all, because I haven’t done anything especially exciting, but it adds up. I tell others, all the time, that everything counts (sorry for the Depeche Mode earworm), and apparently I don’t listen to myself very well.

So what HAVE I been doing while trying to get myself back on some sort of new normal ish? Let’s wander through the projects littering my house. (As a note, apparently having people over is what keeps the projects from Taking Over.. the spouse is lucky I haven’t taken over his spot on the couch yet, but it’s a near thing.)

img_20200426_181703847

The scrappy side, full of ends.

There’s been some plain knitting, as best as I can manage on the plague shawl. It started out using up what looked like a failed warp in an inherited stash, and now has been just using up bits and pieces of whatever else is in the stash in about the right colours. I can’t work on it much, my arms hate every second of it, and it’s going to be CRAZY warm (I started it when my house was FREEZING to sit in all day), just in time for the weather to warm up. It is literally a triangle made by knit 1, yarn over, knit to the end of the row. Continue until you run out of yarn, or patience. Wait, no.. keep going when you run out of patience, you’ll run out of that early, cause damn it’s boring and those rows get super long by the end.

img_20200411_140824376_hdr

There’s been some modern textile collage, which was something I did long ago with an embroidery mentor. Basically if Sharron was teaching at our modern needlecraft guild, I took her classes. She is an amazing artist, and I wish I had a 1/10th her skills with a sewing machine. (Not enough to practice.. I happily stick to hand stitching). A modern embroidery page is doing mini challenges every week, and one of them was a collage, and I couldn’t resist the nostalgia. I’m trying not to overthink it, it’s not a stunning masterpiece, but I appreciated the distraction working on it. I’ve only done week 2’s challenge, even if they are starting week 6, but I appreciate watching everyone else’s work.

I have been baking and cooking.. basically every day. Nothing overly exciting, mostly dinner every night, and lunch every day. Granola and yogurt and candied peel and bread, so much bread, another sourdough starter, more bread, cake and curries and pottage and muffins and and.. cooking and baking has been my standby for creative work when I didn’t have brain for string. I’d say I can bake in my sleep, but I over yeasted my bread this morning when putting the dough together before coffee, but somehow it all has survived and it is perfectly tasty bread.

The mending box is.. damn near empty. Apparently global pandemics make me want to darn socks and patch holes in skirts. The clothes that need major alterations, well they might sit for quite some time to come, but that’s besides the point.

img_20200426_184405338

A wee tiny bit of knitted lace, to potentially end up on another textile collage that I can see in my head, which is generally a death knell to it actually looking anything like that, and destined to be disappointing, but we’ll see. It might end up just being another random bit of lace hanging out in stash.

I’m sure there’s been more, but those are the highlights that I can remember right now. What have you been up to?

Sourdough brain dump

So, the world has gone crazy for sourdough. Which is cool, and honestly pretty awesome all in all. I’ve played with sourdough before, and I’ve had some failures and some success and every time I go out playing with sourdough, I learn more. This time, no different.  This is a collection of brain dump items that I shared with a co-worker who was working on his first starter, and I’ve no clue if any of this is useful to anyone else, but he found it interesting, so now I’m sharing it with everyone.

 

IMG_20181120_195941875

Sourdough starters

Flour choice

I don’t fuss too hard about what flour I’m feeding Fred. (Fred’s my usual starter name, I have had Wilma in the past, but I’m back to Fred, I don’t know why.) All purpose, whole wheat, rye. Those are usually my choices, and it seems to be whichever is closer. This house is fully glutened, so I have never experimented with GF flours.

Water choice

Guelph water is only chlorinated, not treated with chloramine. Lemme pause here for a quick chemistry lesson, I promise it won’t hurt. There’s two main ways that city water can be treated to kill off bacteria, chlorine and chloramine. (NB: it is not the same chloramine as in swimming pools.. do not try this at home.. related but not the same.) There are other options for killing off pathogens in water, but those are the two most common in cities. While most use chlorine to disinfect initially, it is the wee bit of residual disinfectant that we care about. Chlorine is quite volatile, it doesn’t really want to stay in the water, it has places to be and things to react with. Chloramine is a much more stable molecule and hangs out in the water allll the way from the treatment plant to your tap. Now, we are attempting to start a yeast farm here, and by rights, that disinfectant that is trying to keep the water clean and safe is also kinda trying to kill our yeastie beasties. By and large, there is not enough residual disinfectant to cause huge problems, unless your tap water smells like a swimming pool. (If it does, I expect you’re not drinking it either.) That being said.. chlorine is volatile, and if you let a clear jar of water sit on the counter for a few hours, it arses off. Chloramine does not. I emailed my city’s water department to ask them which they used (This website has a chart for Canadian cities,  but they are trying to sell you stuff, so take with salt as needed, you may want to just email your public works department) and Guelph uses chlorine. So I just have a jug of water that sits on the counter and my plants and yeasties and cat gets that.

Feeding schedule

I feed Fred once a day, generally and equal parts flour and water. That keeps him at 100% hydration (What does hydration mean? It is what ratio is your water to your flour.. and hey look.. mine are the same.. 100% water for my flour. It’s the most common if you’re looking at technical sourdough pages.) You can measure your flour and water by weight (my preference, but that’s how I bake as well), or by volume. Up to you. I only discard when he’s getting too big for his jar, otherwise I feed him up to have enough to bake a good batch of bread from and still have some left over to continue Fred. There are oooooodles of recipes online for what to do with sourdough discard, but I throw it in to muffins as often as not, or fry it up as griddle cakes, rarely does it hit the compost. It’s just flour and water and some yeasties in there, there’s no reason not to use it somewhere you need flour and water. If there’s a weird layer of liquid on top, that’s alcohol and you can mix it in or toss it. (I toss it, I don’t care for the taste, but it won’t hurt you.) and it’s a sign that your Fred is going too long between feedings.

Temperature

Yeastie beastie like to be warm, but not tooo warm. (They are very much like me in that regard, actually). Where Fred lives needs to be in the 20s C, and honestly.. my house isn’t from about Oct – June, so he usually lives on top of the fridge or on top of the router (make sure he’s got PLENTY of room in his jar before putting any jars of goop on computer equipment), or in the oven with the light on. I seriously thought about getting one of those plug in mug warmers, but I thought that might be too warm for Fred. This is a major spot I’ve struggled with, and too cold for too long has mucked with my starters in the past. Keep Fred cosy!

Baking

​When it comes to baking with sourdough starter for yeast.. it’s all a waiting game. Timing on recipes are vague guidelines. Your yeasties will take as long as they need to double your dough, and they didn’t read the recipe to know what it said. I like two rises, and I don’t generally stick any in the fridge, but my house is cold enough already. Accept that you are going to be eating a lot of bread while you figure out what your favourite baking style is, and that’s it’s a good and delicious thing.

Uh Oh

Sourdoughs are mostly really forgiving. If they get pink or green fuzzy bits, they are compost. That means the turf war between bacteria and yeast went to the wrong kind of bacteria. There are good guy bacteria in there too, they provide the sour flavour (IIRC.. this is where my research is sketch, so correct me if I’m talking out my butt), but really you aspire to keep yeast happy enough that there’s just not /room/ in there for the other guys. Stirring is good, yeasties like oxygen, the sour making bacteria do not, so it might keep things milder too. (This is all WAAAY oversimplified, eventually I will get myself together to do a fermentation class as part of my modern alchemy series.)

More resources

I really like the King Arthur Flour site about sourdough: ​https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/guides/sourdough
I really like their site for most baking things, actually. Clear, scientific based information and the recipes have been tasty too.
I turn to Serious Eats a lot for other things and they did a day by day starter-along a few years back: https://slice.seriouseats.com/2010/11/how-to-make-sourdough-starter-day-0.html
If you’re interested in current sourdough research, there’s a woman looking for information about your starter: http://robdunnlab.com/projects/wildsourdough/
Most of the internet currently is waxing poetic about starters and sourdough everything, give it a go! Eat more bread!
Any grievous errors, let me know!

Thread comparison

Phew, apparently global pandemics are bad for my posting routines, but I hope to be back into the swing of things, even if I’m just not /doing/ much, or so it feels like. Except that I am, just not big amazing projects (or necessarily SCA projects), so be on the look out for a post of all the stupid little stuff I’m doing to keep my fingers busy (and arm irritated.. but that’s besides the point).

Part of the stupid little stuff I’m working on is a wee bit of knitted lace.

Brief aside; knitted lace is not SCA period, FYI. It’s my one true textile love. It’s one of the redheaded step children of the lace world, so we get no love from anywhere, but I don’t care. While there are extant examples of yarn overs in knitting (Some. Very few. But some), the elaborate use of them to make a hole filled thing that could be visually called lace is just not there. I want it too, but alas, no love.

Ahem. Right, I was doing a wee bit of knitted lace for another stupid irrelevant project that might not even pan out, and I picked out my edging pattern, and grabbed some string and knit up a bit of it. And hated it. Hated it so much, I ripped it out without a picture. Alright, next string. Better, right in some contexts, but not what I was looking for. I had the presence of mind to keep that one, and get out yet another thread and do it again. (It’s a damn fine thing I like knitting lace, but this would be exactly why my arm currently hates me. /sigh/)

I had the two pieces sitting side by each and decided to share them with you. The one on the left is knit from size 30 crochet cotton. The one on the right is size 8 perlé cotton. They look close, but not quite, so let’s talk about each of these threads in the sort of obsessive detail only someone who spends too much time out of their life talking string can. We’re going to look at these unblocked because I am a heathen who isn’t going to block these while on the needles, know that after a wash and stretch, it will change somewhat, but this lace is pretty firmly knit, it won’t change as much as some super soft ethereal stuff.

img_20200418_183405858

So, let’s look at the two threads, a quick overview and then I’ll get into the nitty of each. They’re both cotton, just to start, and close in colour. One is variegated, and one is solid, but that’s neither here nor there.  They are not quite the same size, but pretty close. I have knit them using the same pattern, on the same knitting needles (and with the same knitter, as that is more of a variable than anyone gives it credit for).  They are both mercerized threads. What does mercerized mean? It does not mean that it is cotton for hire in your army.  It means that in manufacturing, they took the thread (can also be done to fabric) and treated it with an alkali while under tension to make it perfectly smooth and a little bit shiny. It also increases the tensile strength of the yarn, mucks about with the fibre length, and makes it more water repellent. You do not want towels made out of mercerized cotton, but it makes for a lovely set of sheets, for example.

Alright, let’s talk differences.

img_20200420_163324839

The crochet cotton I’m using here is a vintage thread, its label is long gone (picture above from one of the bazillion others in my stash), but experience says to me that it is probably a Coats Mercer crochet (or near enough), which is a tightly spun, quite stiff thread and that tracks with what’s on this ball. My beloved copy of Threads for Lace tells me that it’s a twice plied yarn, which tracks with it being quite stiff. (2 singles are plied first, and then those plied yarns are plied /again/.. my hand spinning soul can’t even imagine fighting that twisted mess, but that’s besides the point.) So its numbers are 2S/3Z (ie 2 singles are S plied.. then 3 of those are Z plied into the final thread) at 22 wraps per cm.

img_20200420_161654823

The one on the right is knit with perlé cotton, this one has its label, so I know for certain that it is (also vintage) DMC perlé size 8. This is a much more straight forward 2S spin (ie 2 singles are S plied) and is just a shade thicker at 17 wraps per cm. This thread is also mercerized, which is how it gets its characteristic sheen, and gets to keep all sorts of that sheen thanks to not having been plied within an inch of its life. Over and above the fact that it is legitimately a bit thicker, it also is just more poofy, it has more cushy to it, it has curves. (All euphemisms for calling it fat, I’m realizing, but I’m not here to yarn shame. Especially not during pandemic snack-fest.)

So let’s look back at the comparison between the threads as they knit up. The left one in the crochet cotton is crisper, the stitches are very well defined, almost thin really. The solid sections aren’t quite so solid, but the holes look fantastic. By contrast, the perlé cotton on the right has softer holes, the solid sections have filled in, the whole thing looks (and feels) squishier. Neither is bad lace, both are perfectly acceptable products, but only one fits what I envisioned in my mind, and so the crochet cotton probably will get ripped out, and I’ve already doubled the length in the perlé cotton. (another reason my arm hates me. /sigh/) So which do you like better?

Bonus pickle post

Because of the plague, we are cooking even more than usual (and we cook a lot to begin with) and as an added bonus, using up canned stuff (yay empty jars to fill with more things!) I’ve had a request for a couple of my pickle recipes, and so I’m putting them here to be easy to find. Neither are SCA period, one’s 1950s vintage and one is an adaptation of a friend’s family recipe.

img_20200404_141839499

Mustard Pickles

(I’ve managed to misplace my version of this, so here’s the original family recipe with some of my remembered changes)

2 qt cucumbers (I’ve done chunks and I’ve done slices. Slices are perfect for putting on things, so I’ll do that again)
1 qt onions, sliced.

(Some folks add cauliflower to this veggie mix, I never have. Amounts are very forgiving of the veggies. The goo will easily coat another quart or two of veggies. Use up what you’ve got left after other pickles.)

Soak in brine (1/4 cup pickling salt to 6 cups water) overnight
Drain and rinse.

In large saucepan:
2 oz whole mustard seed
1 tbsp celery seed
3/4 cup  ClearJel (canning friendly cornstarch, find it on amazon)
1/2 cup dry mustard
1 tbsp turmeric powder
6 cups sugar. (Can go lower)

Add 7 cups vinegar and 2 cups water slowly.
Cook till thickened about 10 minutes
Add cucumber mixture bring to boil. Pack into hot sterilized jars and seal.

Curry Pickles 

This recipe is from a vintage pickle book I found somewhere in my travels, from 1955. I’ve adapted it for the modern palate who no longer thinks a tsp of curry powder is ‘daring’. 

4 lbs cucumbers
1/2 cup pickling salt
Ice water to cover

Wash cucumbers and cut how you’d like them. Chunks or slices work best IMO, but you do you. Combine all together, and let sit for 6 hrs. (ish) Drain and rinse well with cold water. 

4 cups cider vinegar
2 tbsp curry powder
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup mustard seed
2 tbsp celery seed
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tbsp red pepper flakes (or chopped hot peppers, but this isn’t a spicy pickle generally, so don’t go nuts)

Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pack cucumbers in hot jars, and pour hot brine over. (Swear when you run out of brine and need to make more, because it never works out perfectly. It’s not just you. I scaled the brine up from the original, it should be enough.) Seal and process. 

Mustard pickle is delicious on a fresh bun, with a good strong sausage, IMO and curry pickles are best with a fork and sitting with the jar, hiding from anyone who wants you to share.  Take care and enjoy!

Kingdom A&S display

Kingdom A&S. One of my (unsurprising) favourite events of the year, and because the world is trying to end itself, we’re not there. It should be tomorrow, I should be madly packing and anxiously waiting for the workday to end so we can get on the road, and only one of those things is happening. (Work from home does not make the anticipation of the weekend any less, I’m discovering.)

However, I was going to show the world the current state of my embroidery sampler for the year, three months in. And then I realized that I haven’t even shown the blog the finished pieces for March, or February! Hard to believe that it’s 1/4 of the way done, although I need to get my skates on to pick something for April. Did you know that’s NEXT WEEK!? YIKES!

img_20200327_155314896

Appliqué, Blackwork and Canvaswork

There we are. The first three, hanging out side by each. I have not yet decided how I want to display all twelve when they are done. I suspect one big hanging of some sort, but honestly, where would I put it? It’s why they haven’t been finished off more than this, because I don’t know what to do with them.

img_20200130_071713865

Derpy deer in his final glory.

The one I’ve learned the most on was derpy deer. Appliqué is totally new to me, and it had the steepest learning curve. The next two months were techniques I’m familiar with, at least in theory, so while it was a new pattern, or a variation on a theme, it was familiar.

img_20200327_162107288

Fastest by FAR was March’s canvas work. It took me a week. I can absolutely see why it’s a great choice for covering walls with, it goes so incredibly fast. Get that first pattern line in, and then it is absolutely mindless follow the yellow brick road along. It was also the one I’ve enjoyed doing the least, probably for exactly that reason. (Although in the current mental climate of uncertainty and chaos, I’d probably welcome it, so take that for what it’s worth).

img_20200224_221229013

I love finished derpy deer, but there was language and freak out on the way through to get there. Blackwork was just.. blackwork. I surrendered on plaited braid stitch and just went with normal braid stitch, which I think was a good call at the size I was working at, but now I do have an embroidery stitch nemesis to reload the boss fight on.

Next month is couched work, and I think it’s going to be Bayeux stitch, named for the tapestry, and if you name the stitch after the tapestry, it would be silly for me not to pull my inspiration FROM the tapestry itself. Stay tuned for that!

How’re you doing?

escalator

Well. Goodness. I think all the memes about ‘well that escalated quickly’ basically sum up the world right now, with the pandemic changing the world around us by the minute it feels like. The vast majority of us are now at home full time, some with work to keep us busy, some chasing children who are bored out of their minds, some with unending amounts of free time stretching out to infinity and beyond.

There’s no one right way to handle this, by the by. Some folks are diving into big creative projects they’ve always wanted to try. Attending classes every couple of hours, driving from the firehose of online information and fresh productivity that comes from having copious free time all of a sudden. Some folks are retreating back a bit, not quite as delighted by a whole slew of MORE new things and finding solace in familiar crafts and media while everything else is in chaos of new. Both of these, and somewhere in the middle, are totally reasonable. I’m in the second camp. I am a creature of routine, and lists and expectations and suddenly things are changing ALL THE TIME. I will find my new normal and find some concentration and creativity again, but for the moment, I’m settled in on the familiar. A bit of (terrible) weaving. Some mending. My journal has come back out of hibernation as an invaluable spot to settle all those many thoughts into a non judgemental location. I’ve started a new utterly basic dishcloth shawl out of scrappy yarn, my plague shawl. Garter stitch and cozy wool. I can literally knit this in my sleep, and it provides a familiar motion for my hands while my brain is overly full. My social schedule seems to be just as full of zoom / FB live / etc etc meetings with friends to chatter and craft together. It’s not quite the same, but it’s a welcome sense of connection.

img_20200320_144647520

It’s okay if you don’t write the next great novel, or King Lear (the quip being that Shakespeare wrote it while in quarantine), or produce a pentathlon worth of perfectly researched A&S projects. (It’s awesome if you do, I wanna see the cool things!). Bake some cookies, watch a familiar movie and knit on your plague shawl. We will find equilibrium, and we will come together to hug each other close when we’re on the other side of this.

Madder abuse, pt 2.

We’re back for more ways I did terrible things to my madder dye pots in preparation for March’s canvas work. None of these are the end of the world, clearly.. spoilers.. I got dyed fibre in the end. That being said, I absolutely did not follow best practices.. kinda. More on that shortly.

First off, more about mordants. (I love talking about mordants, I mean.. I teach an entire class just about mordants, not a dye molecule in sight, just getting things ready.) Anyhow, it’s an important step. It’s laying the foundation for everything and a lot of people, especially newbie dyers (and those of us who tend towards the impatient <cough>) spend a lot of time asking ‘Do I need a mordant? Really?’ Assume yes. If you aren’t sure, mordant. The dyes that are substantive and effectively self mordant won’t mind, and it’s good practice. It should be the default, not the exception. If you tend to use a lot of a certain kind of thread, mordant more than you need. Then, when you are impatient, or a friend says ‘hey, I’ve a dyepot going, wanna toss something in?’ (happens more than you think in certain circles), you have it ready and waiting. The mordant makes a chemical reaction with the fibre molecules, that’s the point of the process, it’s fine to get dried out and wait for your next dye day. (The dyes that don’t generally need a mordant are usually full up on tannins all built in, just in case you were wondering.)

By the same token.. experiment! Toss a mordanted skein of something and an unmordanted skein of something in the same dye pot. How do they differ? How do they differ in 6 months? We want this to be an exact science, but it’s not. The dye stuff, and the fibre itself are natural products and change year to year, growing season to growing season. There are trends, and generalities, but sometimes.. dye pots do whatever they darn well please, and we appreciate the colours they give us, even if it might not have been the one we were expecting. (Sometimes that appreciation takes a few days.. weeks.. to develop. <ahem>)

So when last we left our hapless skeins of yarn, they’d hung out in a mordant bath all day, while I went off and did things that get me a paycheque (I am fond of those paycheque things). I pulled them out of the mordant bath, and tossed them into a bucket to wait for me. I was planning on using them right away, so no need to carefully dry them out, and honestly, I was fine if some extra water and mordant hung out on the skeins (Sometimes mordant molecules don’t find their home with a fibre molecule.. it’s sad, but it happens. A missed match in the love lives of molecules.) While the skeins were hanging out cooling off in the big dye pot, the little crockpot was cooking away all day.

img_20200228_063536721

I am notorious for not gathering up my dyestuff into a little fabric baggie to keep it contained, and I did that this time as well. The last of an elderly (although at that point, I’d rather forgotten how elderly) package of madder (about 40 g) into a crockpot of water, put on low and away I went. A crockpot on low sits at about 200F, just a shade below the boil. (Thank you Edith for hunting that up for me). Madder shifts towards the browns at 160 – 180F. (Did I mention the lack of exact science? Right. Exhibit A.), and I was alright with getting browns. I rather like the red/brown that hot madder gives, and my dye crockpot doesn’t have a keep warm setting, and I wasn’t going to fuss with a sous vide water bath, or babysitting it to keep it warm, but not hot. Brown is lovely. Yay brown. It got to sit in the crockpot all day, and then I strained it through a scrap of cotton cloth into the dyepot when I got home. Like making stock for soup.. the liquid is the bit you want. Ask any dye worker (or cook) and you’ll find someone who has once.. just once.. absently drained some or all of what they wanted down the sink. <sigh> But not this time! Hold onto that strained stuff too, tie it up into a packet like I should have done to begin with. It goes back into the crockpot to get simmered again (hey.. could have more dye molecules left in there!), the dye liquor now is safely ensconced in the big dye pot.

This is, or should be, the strongest colour you’re going to get from your dyestuff. It’s the first extraction, it should snag the most dye molecules (even if they’ve been shifted brown cause lazy crockpot). Top it up with some water, toss in some mordanted fibre and hot it up. This time, I really did just get it to hot and then turned it off and left it to cool all on its own. You can just let it stay cool and ignore it for a really long time, but your dye molecules are making a chemical bond with your mordant molecules (who have already made a bond with the fibre). That reaction happens faster when things are hot.

img_20200228_063507711

There’s a few important notes in here. Your dye pot needs to be big enough to let everything float around with space in there, otherwise you will get splotchy spots. This is a grand dance of dye molecules surfing the room looking for a best beloved with a mordant molecule and relationships rarely bloom when you are nose to jowl with a pack. Wool likes consistency, if it’s going into hot water, it should already be warm at least. If it’s going into cold water, it should be cold. Wool doesn’t like getting roughed up, especially when its wet. Gentle swishing. Silk doesn’t mind the temp changes, and it’s moderately robust against swooshing, but it doesn’t like getting too hot, it wants to stay under that 180F as well (80C). Fibre should already be well soaked, or else the dye will strike differently on dry fibre vs wet fibre. The mark of a good dyer in history was not the funky dye effects that are popular in hobby dye now, but having a perfectly even product.

I generally leave it in the dyepot for a few hours, because otherwise I yank it out immediately which is fine in some cases, not fine in others. This time, I left it overnight, letting the dyepot cool off on the stove naturally. Rinsing is up next. This is where wool is the most fraught. You want to make sure to wash the wool well, but the water temp needs to be pretty much exactly what it came out of, and you need to not agitate the wool too much. Gentle! Gentle, gentle, gentle. Either pull the wool out of the container you are running water into, or run the water on the side without the wool. Gentle swoosh, or just let it sit. Squeeze lightly, or not at all. The adage I’ve always worked under is that one rinses until one is willing to drink the rinse water. Then you know it’s clean enough. You want it to get all of its running over with now and not when it’s made up into a finished piece and it rains. Or you spill a cup of coffee on it and it needs a bath. This is the time to solve the dye running issue. If it never stops running dye, you need to keep rinsing, or brain storm a new way to convince the dye to bond with the fibre. (That’s a whole different post.) Tah dah! You have dyed your fibre, hang it up to dry (I used to use a drying rack in the tub, but my drying rack turned out to be the perfect size to hang sausage off, so now I have a much smaller rack that fits in the tub. I think it was supposed to be a shoe rack at the dollar store.)

But wait, I can hear you say, there’s still colour in the dye pot, and the little bundle of madder dust has given a wee bit more colour.. yes there is! This is when you start tossing more skeins in and getting the paler colours, as there is less and less dye left in the vat. When you started with a darker red/brown, now it’s more peach, or pink, until you’re getting the most vague blush and then it’s time to toss the bath. At this point, you could pop them into an afterbath to modify the colour, which I did with one. Some iron sulfite into water (a more period route is to let metal hang out in tub of water ’til it’s good and rusty, or simmer it in an iron pot for a while, I went the modern route), let the dyed skein hang out there to have iron molecules mess with things a bit. Iron makes colours ‘sad’, sort of dulls them out, which is a nice shift when you’re looking for shades.

img_20200301_142242391

I got pale (for madder) colours, even on my strongest bath, because my madder is elderly. Like ‘could start school’ sort of elderly. I combated that somewhat by simmering the snot out of the poor stuff, but it shifted colours, even from when I used it for my pent a few years ago (yes, same batch of madder, and it wasn’t new then!). There’s a good reason why madder is one of the most common and popular dyestuffs, it is versatile and even when you are a complete jerk to it, you still get pretty colours that are fast. They don’t budge much.

I harp a lot about not using random stuff to dye with, because for my time at a dye pot, I want something that is going to give me good colour and be pretty solidly light and wash fast. In my early dye days, I didn’t care.. I tossed anything and everything in to see what happened? You get a lot of terrible yellows that fade quickly, but that time built skills and taught me a lot of things, even while I got fugly yarn. If you’re starting out.. experiment! Make ugly yarn, you can always overdye it, but know that for those working in a professional environment as a dyer, they used the tried and true that was worth their time doing.