Hello September and Project updates

Somehow, the summer has vanished in a haze of I’m not sure what and we’re sitting at Academic New Year. Happy Academic New Year everyone! Even if it’s perhaps not exactly what we all expected and things aren’t quite running to plan, this is where we’re at.

What’s the story, morning glory?

And where am I at, you ask? I’m mostly still trying to figure out what happened to May, but here we both are at September. I am very much behind on my sample a month project (3.25 months behind to be exact, I still haven’t finished May’s project), and I’m not sure what else happened all summer long. I felt busy, but I’m really not wholly sure what I was busy /with/. Canning, and gardening, certainly. Some modern knitting, but .. it’s just a bit of a hazy fuzz. This is likely why it still vaguely feels like May!

SAL up to week 34

But! A new month! A new (academic) year! It’s like being able to hit a reset button with new found interest. I did accomplish one thing over the summer, I’ll share that next time (it’s a gift! I want my giftee to get it first, no spoiling the surprise!). For now? I’m trying to keep my expectations low, because clearly my concentration is pretty shot. I have no urge at all to follow the original listing of categories, but I watched a whole bunch of smocking videos, and that’s a category! (Technically the category is pleated work, but smocking totally counts), so the aim is to work on that in September. I’m (mostly) caught up on the blackwork stitch along, and ideally I’ll keep up with THAT in September, and I have some modern knitting I need to do. That sounds like enough for one month, don’t you think? I’m also hoping to get back to blogging, because I’ve missed the accountability of wanting to have /something/ to show my 10 readers every week. (Thank you 10 readers! ❤ ❤ <3)

100% not a scribe

Know that if you’re struggling, you are not alone. Even for those of us who feel like we have nothing to worry about, it’s wearing. If you manage nothing but watching some videos while eating ice cream? No judgement here.

Perfection

I know, it’s been a while, my productivity stinks at the moment, along with a lot of other people’s. I’ve spent far too much time in Zoom, I’ve played far too many phone games, and I’m almost 2000 strips into a webcomic archive. (Questionable Content.. I’ve read since the beginning, but I got behind and I started back at the beginning. Go read it, but pace yourself. It’s worth it, and the art gets better.) I’ve knit a lot of doilies and some blackwork stitch along and puttered and piddled around and I can’t get my brain around anything big and complicated and I’m not working up to my usual obsessive perfectionist standards.

Some spinning too

And then I was chatting with a friend today, and we were lamenting about the unholy levels of stress going on in that blackwork stitch along group about having perfect work. People (almost always women) are posting extreme close up photos of perfectly reasonable stitchery and you can hear the anxiety in their post about ‘my stitches are a little woobly, should I re-do it?’ And they.. they AREN’T woobly. They might not be up to digital calliper 10th of a mm straightness, but that is, quite frankly, ridiculous levels of expectation.

Then she said something profound and I came to ramble at you all about it..

The difference between ‘doing’ and ‘excelling at’ is one that is getting increasingly blurred.

– wise friend on Discord

There’s been memes running around the internet about this, but today, this hit like a ton of bricks. We, as an artistic community, have put all of our eggs in the ‘perfect’ basket. To the point of most people feel it is better to not do at all, than do something imperfectly.

Day lilies might be perfect

I am the first one to admit that I am not immune to this, not even the tiniest little bit. I’ve been shoving projects into the UFO bin like crazy because I don’t have the patience or temperament right now to work to my ‘usual’ standards, except in my most routine and familiar crafts. My embroidery tension is off kilter? Toss. My weaving sett got arsed up? Into the UFO bin. New craft to try? I can’t even convince myself to watch the how to video, because somehow I’ve already progressed to the ‘but I’ll run out of time and fabric when I screw it up!’ when the (much more than I need) fabric is still in the package! Why is it not okay to do anymore? Why is perfection the only available option? Looking to make nice and good things is fine, but there’s a point at which it’s too far. Where good enough is not good enough, where any level of imperfection is too much. And that’s CRAZY, and it’s crazy making.

The pattern is 8.5″ x 11″ paper. My sampler is tiny.

I think on some level, it’s a thing that we can control, so we try to. There’s so much imperfect in the world, that adding more feels wrong. There’s a level of ‘but if I’m not good at this, then I’m a failure at everything’, because goodness knows the stress levels of existing at the moment are pretty sky high. Even in places where the pandemic is just worrisome and not rampaging. I don’t know how to tell my brain that people won’t think I’m a fraud if my embroidery isn’t perfect, but I think I need to start figuring out how to do that. Its okay to enjoy things you aren’t good at, I do not need to master everything I try. It’s also okay to screw things up. Remind me of this now and then, would you? We hold ourselves to ridiculous and unreasonable standards.

Bonus Muffins

This is a wholly modern recipe, so if you’re looking for period muffins, well you are probably right out of luck. But if quarantine cooking has landed you interested in a choose your own adventure style muffin recipe, c’mon along for the chattery ride. You’re going to want the commentary on the way the first time through, but I’ll try and condense it into a real-ish recipe at the end. Also, my apologies for being wholly and entirely Canadian about my measurements.

Muffins with bonus granola picture

So! I make these muffins about once a week around here, and they are never the same twice. I work by weight when I bake, so grab that scale you got to diet with and have ignored ever since and make yourself more carbs.

Starting with the dry ingredients you’re looking for:

  • 200g flour
  • 75g sugar
  • 75g oats
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp soda

The flour can be a mix of all purpose and whole wheat but aim for at least half AP. The oats can be quick oats or large flake oats (steel cut oats are no go.) Sugar can be white or brown or a mix. Give that a good mix up.

Add in dried fruit until you’re happy. In this house that’s usually raisins, but it can be chopped dates, dried cranberries, currants, leftover fruit from fruitcake season, whatever’s handy and sounds tasty. Give that a quick mix in. Next up is a scoopy spatula full of jam. Whatever sounds tasty today. This is an excellent place to use that jam that didn’t set, or the one that someone gave you that isn’t really that good on toast. If you’re going to leave just scrapings in the jar after a good scoop, toss the rest in. No one likes someone who puts a jar of just scrapings back in the fridge, don’t be that person. (I’ve been using up a batch of failed marmalade in muffins for the entirety of the plague so far, and it’s been brilliant. It overcooked but didn’t burn, and that deep caramel and citrus flavours have been amazing. I am sad that today’s muffins are the last of it.) Consider how strongly flavoured your jam is and add spices to suit, or just because you love them. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, anise, whatever makes you happy. You want cayenne muffins, you do you.

In a 2 cup measuring cup, measure 1/4 cup of oil. (Canola, veggie, olive.. whatever) Add in 1 cup of liquid. Milk, fake milk, water, herbal iced tea, liquor you were gifted that you think is disgusting (perhaps cut this one half and half.. I didn’t and those were.. interesting muffins.) Add and egg and give it a good mix up. Dump the liquid into the dry and give the whole thing a good mix up ’til there aren’t dry bits anymore. You are not mixing this until it weeps, just until everyone’s nicely sodden.

Grease your muffin tin, pour your goop in and pop it into a 400o oven for 15 – 20 mins. Peek at 10 mins if you’re not sure how hot your oven runs. Every oven is different, and the recipes that are adamant that you will need /precisely/ 11 mins or the world will end are full of not accepting that every oven is different. Stab them with a bamboo skewer (or knife, or tooth pick, or whatever) and if they have no more goop inside, they’re done. Eat too many muffins, and enjoy!

Jammy Muffins

200g flour (at least 100g all purpose)

75g sugar (any combo of white and brown)

75g oats (quick or large flake, not steel cut)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking soda

dried fruit to taste

1/3 – 1/2 c jam (any flavour)

spices to taste

1/4 c oil

1 c liquid (milk, non dairy milk, water, herbal tea)

1 egg

Preheat oven to 400o. Combine flour, sugar, oats, salt and baking soda. Mix in dried fruit and spices. Mix in jam. In a 2 cup measure, combine oil, liquid and egg. Pour wet into dry and mix well. Pour batter into greased muffin tin. Bake for 15 – 20 mins. (Check after 10 to be cautious). Makes 12 muffins.

FooL 2020

Phew. Well THAT was a weekend. I’ve talked about FooL before (2016 2017), although not nearly as often as I’d thought! Fruits of Our Labours is usually a weekend long camping A&S weekend that is full of hands on experimenting and learning goodness. It was our investiture event, it was my beloved’s first event, it was where I got my AoA five years ago. There’s a lot of sentiment wrapped up in FooL for us. But this year we’re in a plague, and we can’t meet in person, so the FooL staff took it online. (Also.. apparently I’m even worse about pictures at home than at events. Goodness. I really do own a phone with a camera, I promise. Sheesh.)

Now, this is an event that lends itself to online. Sure, we miss out on getting to do things ourselves, but classes are.. by and large.. a lot more online friendly than say.. armoured combat tournies. It’s hard to demonstrate quite the same way, but the ingenious ways some of the teachers had for rigging up cameras to show their scribal desks and looms were nothing short of brilliant. (Zoom crashing world wide 15 mins before Sunday morning classes starting? Not brilliant, but so many kudos to staff and students and teachers in generally rolling with it and google meet wasn’t quite as slick, but we got there.)

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Welsh cakes from the site token recipes

There was a social space for folks to drop in and out of, and loiter about and just chatter idly, classes all day and bardic each night. It was, very much like in person FooL except with no canvas to haul, and comfortable beds at night. Even the recipes for site token suggestions were posted. I got plenty of embroidery done listening to the social space, and the bardic on Saturday night, which was nice.

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More site tokens. FooL was delicious.

That being said, everything was a little off kilter. I had no idea how much we respond to the audience when we’re addressing the populace until we were talking to a camera and everyone was muted. Surreal, utterly. I am quite certain that there has never been quite so many feline attendees at FooL as there were this year. Bardic circles online are 100% performance and 0% rowdy singing along with the whole crowd in the key of army. I mean.. nothing stops you from singing along at your muted computer (which I do often!), but there’s something about a whole campfire’s worth of people singing together that has a power that no Zoom meeting can ever replace. (Over and above the fact that our campfire was a vanilla scented pillar candle. No bardic circle smells quite that vanilla-ey /either/)

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I still got bacon for breakfast. (And Zoom events are like work meetings, garb from the waist up!)

I am so incredibly proud the FooL staff for making it go, even through all sorts of hurdles and challenges. I am so delighted that we got to have people visit from all over the known world, not only as teachers, but as students and bards and just hanging out. Even folks from our own Kingdom who can’t make it out to many events poked their noses in, and that was awesome. (I also nipped off to Artemesia for a class about Viking Food before bardic on Saturday, which was awesome. Fastest commute ever!)

FooL 2020 was like no other, and it absolutely is one that will be remembered.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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?

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.

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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 1)

So.. plot twist! Instead of calmly gathering threads out of stash, I’m digging out the dye pot. Get comfy, this is a longwinded chatter about my dye process, as I’ve had a lot of questions recently.

Y’know, when I started this hare brained scheme of doing a sample of embroidery per month, I figured it would be a quickie couple week tiny project, badaboom, badabing, and done, move on. Instead? A full month for each so far, generally involving doing dye work, or elaborate tiny stitches and a whole lot of trying to ruin my eyesight. Clearly the answer for March was to dye a spectrum of shades in natural dye on elderly wool. (I swear, one of these months, I am going to pull everything out of stash, and I won’t have dyed or spun or woven any of it and I will feel /so guilty/ for the whole month. I am ridiculous. When this happens, please remind me that I am being silly, and I do not have to mine my own gold.)

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This is probably Kool Aid.

Anyhow! Back to the dyepots. I should mention a couple of points here. I have been doing dyework for a really long time, and I am the absolute WORST for throwing things at the pot, accepting and acknowledging that I am going to get whatever, and not being too stressed about that. It makes me a moderately terrible resource when people ask me for a precise recipe to follow because my notes read like most historical recipes. ‘Season to taste, cook until done’. I can’t always articulate the why of doing something at the time, but I know that it’ll get me what I have vaguely imagined in my head. (And then I talk to a dear friend who does not work in a spaghetti at the wall sort of fashion, and she points out in an organized analytical fashion why everything I did got me what I got and I go ‘oh yeah, that makes sense’) I also work in tiny quantities. I dye skeins of embroidery thread. Even my skeins of knitting or weaving yarn are quite small, because a couple thousand yards of threads lasts me approximately forever at the scale I work at. I am not certain I have ever dyed finished fabric. I know the theory, but I don’t work at that scale. Heck, I dye primarily in a small crockpot. (Which is never, EVER used for food. If you looked at the inside of this, you would know why you NEVER EVER dye in food pots. EVER.) (exceptions made for kool aid and icing dye, but I don’t use that all that much anymore, although it is /so much fun/.)

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Madder experiments in 2016

I have dyed extensively with madder before. It is one of my favourite dyestuffs, and its often the one I turn to first. I love the colours, I love that it is really quite fast, I love that it is not a terribly expensive dye, I love that even when I do all the stupid to it, I still love the colours. It is, however, a fussy dye. It is not indigo / woad levels of high maintenance, but there are a LOT of variables that will change the colour of madder. It’s sensitive to temperature, pH and water composition, and can vary from deep brick red-brown to eye searing orange, depending on what you do to it. It also had the advantage of being in my dye stuff stash, which is getting well picked through and elderly at this point. (More on that later, but I really do need to do a good solid stock up soon.) I was on a timeline, and it was handy. Done and done.

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Skeining off silk.

First up is getting the yarn skeined off. Tossing a ball of yarn into a dyepot is a fast train to the outside being a great colour and the inside being undyed. I have totally done this on purpose at various points to get a neat gradiation effect, but it’s not the medieval aesthetic, so I rarely aspire to it these days. So! Skein it out, and then I use about 8 figure 8 ties to keep everyone together. That means, at 8 spots in that skein, I have split the skein in half, and popped a little tie around both halves, VERY LOOSELY. You want to be able to have a couple fingers worth of space in that tie, and you will make the weavers whimper. (Weavers, when tieing off yarn, want it to not go ANYWHERE. Dyers, when tieing off skeins, want it gently herded to not get too far. The transition between the two mindsets takes a moment.) Some folks live on the edge and only do 4 ties, but I’m a weaver too, and I can’t quite be that zen, so I err on the side of paranoia and keep it a little more constrained. You want the ties to be loose such that the fibre can move freely around in the water, tie them tightly and you get 8 (or however many ties) regularly spaced undyed sections. (A feature for some! I’ve also done it on purpose, to great effect.)

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Onwards to mordanting! (As with most things in the A&S world, there is a lot of prep before you get to the thing. You can either rail against it, or just embrace it as part of the process. I am not always very good at that second bit, I’m a work in progress.) Mordanting is a pre-step in natural dye work, to basically lay a chemical foundation for the dye reaction. Not all dyes require it, but most do. I teach a whole class in the chemical processes involved in mordanting, but the crux of it is that most fibres need a little chemical bridge between fibre and dye molecule. The most common of these is alum. (Yes, the same stuff you use in pickles.. okay that reference might not be helpful to most.) Dye work is done by weight. This is the reality of life, and the sooner one picks up a scale the happier it is. Weigh the dry fibre. (dry is important here), for alum, we generally want about 10% of that weight in alum. (This starts to become personal dye attitudes. Some folks aim for 5 – 8%, some add 1 or 2% of cream of tartar into the mix. I am boring, and mordant with straight up alum at 10%. Done.) The amount of water.. fairly irrelevant beyond ‘enough to ensure the yarn isn’t crowded’. We are specifically aiming to put enough aluminum compound molecules in there to react with the locations on the fibre. (dye molecules.. much the same.. the amount of water is irrelevant, beyond ‘enough’). As a friend once put it: it’s like marbles in a bathtub, adding more water doesn’t make more marbles appear. The yarn should be wet going into the mordant bath, and wool takes forever to get properly wet. It has a hydrophobic (hydro: water phobic: dislike) layer on fibre, and it needs some time to get past that. Best practices say soak it for an hour or so. I don’t always, sometimes I soak it for much longer. Toss the wet yarn in, and get the whole thing hot. The reaction WILL happen at room temperature, eventually, but most chemical reactions are much more zippy when they are warm, so hot it all up! I had silk in the mordant bath as well (if I’m getting the stuff out, I might as well dye more than I need, future me will thank me), and silk doesn’t like to boil. It starts to lose its sheen above about 80C. So I got to ‘thinking about simmering’, and then shut it off and went to work.

Okay, that’s more than enough rambling about dye work for one day.. part two coming soon!

 

 

 

Tools of the Trade

With getting back into embroidery and tiny knitting and other handwork this year, I’ve been doing some shopping to make my life easier. I figured I’d show some of the new toys I’ve gotten recently and some old favourites.

A couple caveats here in how my workspace is set up. I work at the dining room table. Yes, this does mean I have to clean up what I’m working on if we want to pretend that we’re civilized people and eat at the table, and I have to clean it all up every week when we have people over for dinner and D&D. (Why yes, I do let my nerd flag fly proudly.) This means by nature, my set up is very portable and transitory, I do not have a ‘set up all the time’ work area. I also prefer to work at a table, rather than curled up in the couch with my embroidery, sewing, knitting etc. I appreciate being able to have my charts, coffee, notes, notions etc sprawled out in reach rather than falling into the couch cushions, or having a cat laying on them. It’s perhaps not as comfortable, but it works for me.

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The first and most beloved of all is my Ott light. Acquired on killer sale at Jo Anns a few years ago, I have a small gooseneck LED lamp that just sits on the table. It is light weight, it travels well, it is brilliantly bright and it makes everything I do possible. I adore natural light most of all, but the mix of Canadian winters, full time jobs and being the short house between two taller houses ensures that I do not have much natural light in my home when I have time to do handwork. Take (nearly) everything else away, but pry my Ott light out of my cold dead hands.

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A very new addition to the workspace is my magnifier. Until very recently, the reality of my extremely nearsightedness meant that tiny was fine, I just held it closer with good light. (See the Ott light above. So much <3)  Now with progressive lenses, and that whole ‘aging’ thing that none of us really signed up for, that’s not working out as well for me as it once did. It clamps to the table edge and it’s a 3x magnifier, which I’m finding just about perfect for my embroidery work. It has a built in light, but I find it far too dim to be functional for me. I am spoiled by my Ott light. (I swear it’s not sponsored.) Even though my house is not noted for its direct sunlight, I am trying to keep good habits of leaving its cozy on when not in use.

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The next new toy is my snazzy light table. Acquired for a pittance off Amazon (bad me, support your local retailers etc etc), it’s a smidge larger than a standard piece of paper, plugs in via USB (helllooo battery pack at events / Pennsic), and has 3 brightness levels. It’s about the thickness and weight of a cutting mat, and indeed, I store it with my cutting mats, because it’s that damn convenient. While it will not be amazing to trace a whole jacket’s worth of blackwork pattern onto, it is brilliant for smaller pieces, and honestly, big pieces are just a whole lot of small pieces put together. I expect it will be fine. Also, I feel as if I should mention that I do own other mugs, but that IS a favourite one, painted for me by Dagmar, I’m not surprised that it shows up often in photos.

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The next piece of super important kit is a bit more seasonal, but I swear I seem to find myself working with silk most winters, and winter = dry hands. Silk loves dry hands. It loves to catch on the dry spots, and pull apart, and stick and generally make your life absolutely miserable, so hand cream is vital. This is a very personal preference, so my favourites might be another person’s worst misery, but I tend towards hand cream that is not suitable for putting on right before embroidery. Or much else really. The super goopy, super greasy, wait for it to soak in for a while sort. I’ve a couple of homemade hand creams (one by me, one given to me by a friend), one that’s commercially available sort of homemade (shown above) and they all work well. I cover my hands before bed, and while I’m drinking my first coffee, when I’m not about to be doing much for a little while anyhow and it seems to keep the worst at bay.

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The next bit are even more personal than hand cream choices. Needle choice. And here I could mean knitting needles, could mean sewing needles. I really could say tool choice, because I’m certain that it’s the same for paint brushes and chisels and whatever else people use. Get the good ones. You don’t have to get the best ones, I personally don’t buy tulip needles, cause while they are amazing, I lose embroidery needles far too quickly to justify spending the extra, but get up to good. Crappy points, burrs in the eyes, nasty finish.. it all makes for a miserable work experience. Yes, it does mean I spend 20 bucks (or more) on a set of dpns. (This is a lot for a set of double pointed knitting needles, not crazy, just a lot to casual knitters.) It means that my good embroidery needles are about a dollar each (goodness, phrased like that, I really need to stop losing the damnned things!), but with how much time you spend using them, and how much nicer it makes the experience, spend the money. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not even that much money. Ditto with thread. Please throw out the 3 / 99 cent threads. Please. They aren’t worth it. The environment will forgive you.

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What the 3/99 cents thread deserved and got.

Alright, I think that’s enough rambling for the moment about my new (and old toys), I promise I’m also using them and toddling my way through February’s blackwork, I should have an update on that for you soon!

Blue Dragon thoughts

Good morning sunshines! I am a terrible blogger and totally spaced on taking pictures at the event that I’m about to discuss, so there may be some imagination work. It’s good for us, a little bit of theatre of the mind, a la old fashioned radio.

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Picture yoinked from Emelote. Picturesque when you don’t need to go anywhere!

Blue Dragon was a lovely event. An A&S sleep away weekend, hosted at a scout camp. Meals included and enjoyed communally, dorms, classes, good space for social. It was, for those who grok the reference, FF&F (or a multidiscipline St Claire’s) but in my own backyard. Almost literally my own backyard, we live 20 minutes from site. (And to illustrate how close we live to the edge of our barony.. site is not in our barony.) It’s the first year it has run, and the baby event hiccoughs were few enough. (Mostly in the form of not quite enough communication before hand, or on Friday night, but that’s a really minor complaint. Also, while I’m musing.. I know FB is evil incarnate, but I really do miss FB events for events. There’s been a few events of late without FB events to match, and I do appreciate being able to chatter with other folks going and have one location to go look for things, rather than fight with FB showing me posts on the kingdom feed. Websites are all fine and good, and I like them in addition, but you can’t hype each other up on a website, they aren’t interactive. Anyhow, that’s a personal side muse, and likely just me.)

We did get a healthy dump of snow while we were there (a good 30 cm or so), and there is something terribly lovely about sitting and sewing in a cozy lodge, watching snow blow outside, chatting with good friends and know you have no where to be except dinner.  Winter garb was relevant! I was comfortable in all my wool, and it was lovely to have it be useful. Even my usually far too warm first pent stockings got to be appreciated! The storm was done by the time we were heading home, and while digging cars out was an adventure, the drive home was sunny and lovely. (all 23 mins of it! Our drive home was 10% longer due to weather.. our neighbourhood is never terribly well plowed.)

I heard that all of the classes went well, the ones that happened in the room we were hanging out in certainly sounded pretty good. In this Year of Doing Less, I didn’t teach any (and having now seen what my holidays looked like in terms of illness, I am grateful. Prep time would have been nonexistant.). I also didn’t take any classes, and that usually gives people a certain moment of pause. I mean, when you attend an A&S weekend full of excellent classes, why wouldn’t you take any of them!? It has nothing to do with the quality of the teachers, or the classes being offered. Some were darn tempting, I have to admit. I am just not looking for something new right now. I am comfortable with the breadth of my interests (sometimes a little overwhelmed with the breadth of my interests!), and wanting to spend time exploring the depth of my skills and insight. To put it another way, I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head, and I’m firmly in that journeyman stage of putting in my 10 000 hours, or throwing my 50 lbs of clay pots, or whatever your preferred metaphor for the reality of doing more stuff is the only way you get better.

{Picture here a large room full of tables and chairs, with the scriptorium set up in one corner, and a big dragon across from it, guarding raffle prizes that are all going to Sciath anyhow, and various small groups settled in at tables up the length of the room to chat and work on projects. Our table is covered with a red tablecloth and about 9 projects collectively over 3 people.}

A few of us, who are all sitting in that journeyman range of skills, got to talking about this, about the value of working socially and how that value is immensely underrated in today’s world. (Not just SCA world, but that’s the world we’re looking at primarily here.) We were, by and large, doing our own things. Knitting, embroidery, spinning, planning. (Sometimes all of the above, because I have the attention span of a chipmunk on speed), but all together, and knots (literal and figurative) or musing or puzzles got mentioned, and brainstormed absently. Sometimes it was nothing more than sympathetic agreement that you are cutting that bit out, sometimes with reassurances that it’s fine. Sometimes an offer to hold things that simply will not clamp onto those plastic tables. (Swift and ballwinder should make winding a skein into a centre pull ball into a mindless single person activity. Instead, 3 people, all holding different bits, and even in THAT, there was absent minded commentary about flax, and the fibre and choices made.) Just being with others doing The Thing (even if that thing is only sort of related to your thing), provides insight, inspiration and fresh perspective. It’s a side of A&S learning that was very organic in a world that lived more communally, both with extended family, and with others in the village and that we have to actively aim to achieve. I watch the scribes get that with the scriptorium, a place to be with other scribes and absorb the ambient scribal mojo going on, and it was lovely to have another tiny taste of it in the fibre world.