Thursday, November 29, 2007

Spindler true confessions

Here is my spindle collection.

At the back is the homemade spindle from my "Sheep to Scarf" class. In the front, from left, are a handmade spindle from Annie May's eBay store, a Louet, a tiny Cascade, a Schacht convertible, and an Ashford. The two on the left were gifts from Amy. The Cascade was a souvenir from Minneapolis. The Schacht came from Rose Tree in Ames, because I thought I might want to compare top whorl and bottom whorl spinning with decent spindles, although I have not yet tried it as bottom whorl. (Non-spinners: The whorl is the flat piece. Top whorl or bottom whorl refers to where the flat piece is in relation to the stick as you are spinning.) I have absolutely no recollection of obtaining the Ashford. Maybe at the sheep and wool festival a couple of years ago? Stitches Midwest? Yarn Barn? I honestly don't know. I like it a lot, though.

I had spun some on the purple fiber before, like, a year ago. Earlier this week I finally took it off the spindle and made a little fist sized skein out of it. Then, I prepped some more of the fiber, using my new "predraft the heck out of it" technique, and spun it on the same spindle. Vive la difference!

The first yarn is on the left. See how it is fat in spots and really thin in other spots? Look how much more consistent today's batch is in the Extreme Closeup.

I'm pretty pleased with myself about this one.

My young friend Lillian commented recently, assisted by her mother, that I should be careful not to suffer a similar fate to Sleeping Beauty whilst spinning. No needles are needed with drop spindle spinning, so I am probably safe.

Katie would disagree, though. I keep my spinning gear in a small Rubbermaid box. A few days ago, I took out a spindle and set it on top of the box while I fussed with the fiber. A spindle full of yarn has some characteristics that are irresistible to a kitty - it rolls funny, it has stuff she can grab onto, and the little bit of fluff at the end looks sort of like feathers. So naturally, she had to make a grab for it.

And conked herself right in the head with it.

She yelped and ran away. Then she turned around and bitched at it some more, before skulking off to another room for some private time.

For two days, if I so much as touched the spinning box, she was on high alert, backing away slowly and leaving as soon as possible. She relaxed a little bit today. She even sat on the bed while I took the picture of the spindles - but she stayed well away from them.

Today in History: November 29th was my mother's birthday. She's been gone almost 4 years now. Her housekeeping lessons are implemented chez moi on a hit or miss basis, but she gets all the credit for teaching me that You Can Make Things, and for never once telling me that one of my creative ideas was stupid or couldn't be done.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanskgiving snow

On Wednesday, it snowed all day. On Thursday, after Thanksgiving dinner, T and I went for a walk on a new section of trail along the Des Moines River.

We saw a bald eagle, but were not quick enough with the camera to get a picture.

Meanwhile, at the house, we were growing some impressive icicles on the garage.

I don't know where the finches are hiding now, but their nest is full of snow.

I noticed the other day (when it was shirt-sleeve temperatures) that the lilac was budding. It had started leafing by the time the snow came.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Spinning 101

Since the last time I tried spinning, I have acquired a couple of books about spindle spinning, and another spindle, once again courtesy of my friend Amy. She had a "learn to spin" kit with a some luscious teal roving, and had decided she was not going to learn to spin with it.

The roving is SO my color, that I knew I needed to get much better at spinning before I attempted it.

I bought a hunk of "ugly" roving to practice with when the KnitWits went to Minneapolis a couple of years ago.

This is a fairly compact little rope of fiber. It needs to be loosened up so fibers can slide past each other easily. The process of stretching out the amount of fiber that will be spun is called drafting. Loosening and stretching the fiber before you start to spin is predrafting.

Everything I read about spindle spinning, in books and on message boards, suggested that you can't predraft the fiber too much. I started by loosening the rope laterally, until it was a flat, thin sheet. (At the bottom of the picture, you can see the ropey part for comparison.)

(Sorry, no photos of the rest of the process. I was home alone.)

Then I pulled off a section about two inches wide and started tugging it gently lengthwise to start the fiber slippage. When I had an long airy tube of fiber, I attached it to the spindle and started spinning.

I used the "park and draft" method, which gives newbies a little more control. I spun the spindle to build up twist in the yarn, then stopped it with my knees or on the floor while I fed more fiber out. The excess twist travels up the new fiber. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until the strand of yarn gets too long, then wind it onto the spindle and do it all again.

One of the fun things about dyed fiber is that it's really hard to predict how it will look when it is spun. As I said, I wasn't crazy about this roving, but the yarn is sort of pretty.

The learning curve of spinning is learning how to make the yarn the same thickness and with the same amount of twist. I'm not there yet, but at least some parts of it look like I want them to look.

I shall keep working on it.

I spent Thanksgiving with my two roommates, for whom I am truly thankful. Also, we managed to cook a modest sized meal, for which I am also thankful.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November livestock report

My NaNoWriMo writing is going very slowly. Not badly, mind you. The writing is somewhat promising. It just takes forever to get the words down on paper. I'm not out yet, but I am in the "screw Thanksgiving and write 5000 words a day" neighborhood.

To make matters worse, as I was staring out of the window yesterday, I saw Chuckie, and what little concentration I had flitted away as I watched him. He was furiously eating and grooming, alternating with basking in the sun, but by the time I got outside with the camera, he was ready to skedaddle back under the shed and start hibernating.

A few hours later, we were having chilly rains, and snow is in the forecast for mid-week. See you next spring, Chuckie!

As long as I was outside, I looked for the finch nest. After the trek into the wrong neighborhood earlier this year, the finches packed up and moved to the suburbs, aka the middle lilac bush. Now that the leaves are gone, I can see where exactly they have been living.

Meanwhile, Katie found some wildlife of her own.

See it there?

When it gets cool, the ladybugs start heading inside. Their combination of slow walking plus noisy flight tantalizes Katie no end. I knocked this one out of the lampshade to a safer location - safer for the lamp, anyway. She's wrecked more than one lampshade by crawling into it to swat at something, and knocking the whole mess over.

Once the bug lost her interest, Katie resumed mellowness, reposing in Terry's chair where she can be near me, but not too near.

Coming in the next edition of Get A Grip On It: Yarn! Knitting! Spinning! And with any luck, an amazing and inspiring come-from-behind flurry of NaNoWriMo writing.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

She writes, a little

Nanowrimo has started, and so has my annual descent into the fresh hell that is fiction writing. This year, in lieu of a big scary story, I am writing "a man walked into a bar" stories. It's all the same bar, and I anticipate having enough through-story that I can call it a novel. But when the chips are down, I can just pick out a character from my little notebook of ideas, and write a thousand words.

And the chips were down today. I frittered away most of Thursday, but managed to eke out 1678 words, and even better, they didn't suck. I thought that was better, anyway. It turns out that, unaccustomed as I am to fiction writing, writing well freaked me out. I squandered most of Friday and all of Saturday. I was already 4000 words behind this morning. Things were grim.

Thank goodness there was a write-in, and thank goodness, Karen's first words to me were, "I'm behind, too, but we are going to get at least 1000 words before we leave." And so we did. I abducted a character from my friend Aser, and by the time it was all over, I had over 2000 words. I'm still behind, but less drastically that before.

Tomorrow, the reality that is a full time job returns to taunt my aspirations.

After frogging about an inch of the Flamingo sock, I have done the tiniest bit of knitting on it. I'm trying to negotiate a toe-up, gusset-and-flap heel on it.

I'm also trying to conquer spindle spinning again. Amy gifted me a spindle and some beautiful teal fiber. I want it to be yarn, but I need to improve my skills first. My first gambit: Predraft the hell out of the fiber. (Nonspinners: Drafting is sliding the fibers slightly apart lengthwise as you spin. Commercially prepared fiber is somewhat compact. Predrafting is loosening up the compacted fiber before even attempting to spin it.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

We interrupt this program

A few weeks ago, someone on the Lime & Violet message board mentioned the Share Senseo program, where you can apply to get a Senseo coffee maker, the kind that makes individual cups of coffee using prepackaged pods) for just the cost of shipping and handling. You take a little survey, and if they determine that you are the sort who will chat up your friends about their product, you are eligible.

I actually spent some time with my personal assistant, Miss Google, looking at the pros and cons of the product before signing up. The major gripes were that cup sizes were small, pod selection was limited, and pods were pricey. Since I don't drink, nor want to drink, a lot of coffee, the promise of small servings was actually tantalizing. The price of the pods seemed less than the price of buying, or brewing, more coffee than I wanted and throwing most of it out. I'm not much of a fuss about coffee varieties. Once it gets past Colombian, my mind starts wandering.

In short, I am their target customer. I filled out their survey, was selected for the special, and sent them my $15.

I've had the Senseo for a few weeks now, and it it exactly what I need it to be - an easy, non-messy way to get a small cup of coffee. By small cup, I mean about 4 oz., perfect for the "cups" with your grandma's china service. You can double the pods and fill a small mug with the two cup setting. I know, for some people, four or eight ounces is merely an appetizer, but for me, it is just about right, especially with a little milk added.

As I said, I'm not terribly picky about varieties, but I have purchased a few pod packs besides the one included with the coffee maker. I think the Colombian and Kenya blends were somewhat better than the generic Medium Roast, and I wasn't too crazy about the flavored "Paris" coffee.

Cleanup is easy, since the coffee is completely contained in the pod, and most of the parts that come in contact with the actual coffee, as well as the water reservoir, are removable.

One downside for me is the size of the unit. The footprint is about 12" x 9". I have a small kitchen with limited counter space, so this takes a huge hunk of it.

All in all, I am happy with the Senseo. I don't know that I would have spent the money to buy one at retail price, but I'm glad I have this one.

If you want to try getting your own freebie, go here. If they turn you down (the cads! How could they?), I still have the discount coupons they included. Write to me at gmail if you want one.

Why am I writing all about coffee today? Because Nanowrimo has started, and I am already looking for any excuse not to write. But I have started. That's good.