Archive for March, 2009

Mission: Germination

March 27, 2009

Ok, I’m glad that I took my friend’s worry that the woad seeds might not be good seriously and planted lots of them.  Only eight of the thirty or so that I planted have sprouted, but that’s still more than I need.

Woad Sprouts

I just love new seedlings!  They’re so cute, and green.  These ones have a very pale purple stem, with very sturdy-looking leaves.  They haven’t grown much since they first sprouted, but like any good weed they’re establishing a solid root base.  I figure they should be just about ready to transplant in another two weeks or so.  Which is perfect, because I’ll be done my classes by then and will have plenty of time to dig up a new section of garden.

Triple Beam Balance Scale

March 22, 2009

I prefer the mechanical kind of scale to electronic ones.  No worries about plugs or batteries, or spilling dye water on it, plus it just seems more . . . real, somehow.  Maybe I’m strange.  Anyways, there are a few things that you need to know in order to use one of these things.

Triple Beam Balance Scale

Step One: Make sure that zero really is zero.  Slide all the slidey bits to zero.  There is a little knob underneath the platform, that will adjust the weight ever so slightly so the arm is pointing at zero.  This can make up for any slight slope on the surface you’re working on.  Also, if you are measuring something like dye, that needs to be in a container of some kind (I usually just use a folded piece of paper) then you can put the empty container on the scale, reset it to zero, and then you don’t have to worry about the weight of the container (known as tare weight) distorting the weight of the dye.

Zero isn't Zero

Step Two: Place the thing to be weighed (TTBW) on the platform.


Step Three: If needed, add an extra weight to the end of the beam.  Mine came with three – one 500 g and two 1 kg weights.  There are two hooks, so I can use one or two in any combination.  Put on the heaviest weight you can that doesn’t overbalance the TTBW.

Adding Extra Weight

Step Four: Enter the slidey things!  Starting with the heaviest one (100 g increments), start moving it along the beam.  When you reach the point that it overbalances, move back one.  Next do the middle one (10 g increments) and finally the lightest one (1 g increments).

TTBW weighed

Step Five: Add it up.  The weight on the end, plus the weight at each slidey thing on the beams equals the total weight.  This ceramic starfish, for example, weighs 85.7 g.  0 g on the end, 0 g on beam #1, 80 g on beam #2, and 5.7 g on beam #3.

One final note:  You can also set the slidey things to a particular position and then pile your TTBW on the platform until the lever is at 0.  I usually do it this way for dyes, it saves a lot of fuss when the amounts are small.


March 17, 2009

Anybody remember my first post, written a whole month ago?  Wow, to the day even.  In which I stated that I was applying to third year at the big art school in town?  I may have even complained that I wasn’t going to hear from them until April . . .

I got in!  I just discovered the acceptance letter in my mailbox.  Conditional on my final transcripts from this year, but I’m not even remotely worried about my grades.

Everybody do a happy dance with me!

Mission: Sowing

March 16, 2009

Yesterday I remembered that I had several decent-sized pots in the garage.  Which means (yippee hooray!) that I could plant my woad seeds!  I would have just put them straight into the garden, but we’ve been getting weird cold-warm-cold-warm cycles and while they’re supposed to be over, I’d hate for them to sprout only to be killed by yet another late night frost.  Also, I really like watching the first few weeks of a plant’s life and it’s much easier to  do that when they’re on the window sill in my studio than out in the backyard.

I did three pots, with two rows in each one, so when they sprout I’ll thin them down to two plants in each pot, then separate them when they go into the garden, leaving me with six plants.  According to A Dyer’s Garden, six plants will produce enough dyestuff to dye an ounce of wool.  She’s not very specific though.  I don’t know if that means they’ll produce that much dye over the whole summer or in one harvest session.  I’m guessing the latter, but I’ll just have to wait to find out for sure.

Part Nine: Testing

March 12, 2009

In order to determine whether I’ve gained anything real from this project or not, I decided to do a little scientific experiment.  I monitored the temperature of the water in the teapot as it went from freshly steeped to barely drinkable lukewarm.  Since it’s not actually the water in the pot itself but the water after it has been poured into a cup that matters, that is what I measured.  The first one is after five minutes of steeping, and then again at 15 minute intervals until it was too cold to drink (and I ran out of water – it is a tiny tea pot, after all).  Here is the graph of my results:

Tea Temperature Graph

The red line is from the pot with the cozy, and the blue line is from the pot without the cozy.  The shaded area in the middle is the range that I have deemed ‘drinkable’ temperature.

As you can see, adding the cozy to the tea pot has extended the drinkable time after initial steeping to a full 110 minutes, 60 minutes longer than without the cozy.

And now, I’m off to drink some tea!

Part Eight: Felting

March 11, 2009

This is the awesome rebellious part where you get to do all the things that you’re always told not to do when working with wool.  Hot water?  Check.  Lots of soap?  Check.  Agitate?  Check.

My favourite felting method is how they make yurts in Mongolia.  They lay out a giant layer of leather on the ground, then cover it with whole, unwashed fleeces (the natural wool grease helps shed rain from the roof), pour on their boiling water, roll the whole thing up in the leather and trot it around behind a horse for a while.  Some day I’ll get to try it!

As was noted in the comments of ‘Designing’, I’m going to felt the cozy by hand instead of in the machine, in the hopes of a) getting it to felt more and b) losing less dye.  Everybody has their own method of felting knitted items.  Most people, I think, use the method I did for my swatch, which was simply to put it in the washing machine, set on hot.  I’ve read about people with a bucket full of tennis balls and hot soapy water, swooshing and stirring like madwomen with a giant wooden spoon.  I confess, the thought does rather appeal to me, except I don’t have any tennis balls.  Instead, I think I’ll just do it in the kitchen sink, similar to how I do my felting of straight non-knitted wool, just more water, since I don’t have to worry about it falling apart.

Materials: Rubber gloves (thick ones, to protect you from the boiling water), soap (plain ol’ dish soap works pretty well), a kettle or pot for boiling water in, a wool knitted (or crocheted) item.

Step One: Drizzle soap on item.  I had the brilliant idea of using a cutting board to raise the surface to a more back-friendly level while still allowing water to fall off and go in the sink, but . . . it wouldn’t stay put for me.

Drizzle Soap

Drizzle Soap

Step Two: Pour on boiling water.  Put pot/kettle back on heat so it stays warm.

Step Three: Agitate.  Squish it, scrunch it, roll it between your hands, roll it up in a sushi mat, rub it on an old-fashioned washboard, whatever.



Step Four: When you realize the water’s not hot any more, pour on some more.

Step Five: Stop and check the size every once in a while.  At first it will feel like nothing’s happening, then it will look fuzzy, and then you’ll think “hey, I think it’s getting smaller!” and then it will be too small.  I almost messed up here, but I stopped just in time!

It's Felting!

It's Felting!

Step Six: When it’s finally the right size (it takes about half an hour), squeeze out the water in a towel and mold it to the form you want.  Stuff it, lay it flat, drape it over a bowl, anything that will hold it in place until it’s dry.  It will hold some pretty complex shapes if you try hard enough.

Step Seven: Wait for it to dry.  Leave it in place until it really is all the way dry for it to hold the shape best.  Mine took pretty much 24 hours.



And now, at last, we are ready for Part Nine:  Testing!

Part Seven: Knitting the Tiny Tea Cozy

March 10, 2009

Yarn: 3 ply, 9 wpi (wraps per inch) handspun, approx. 108 m
Gauge:  3.5 sts/5 rows per inch.
Needles:  5mm x 22″ circular needle, or set of DPN’s.


CO 12 sts with Judy’s Magic Cast On.

Row 1:  Knit.  Place four markers, evenly spaced.  I use the spaces between the needles as two of my markers.


Row 2:  *Kfb (knit front and back), k to last st before marker, kfb, rep from * to end of row.

Row 3:  Knit.

Repeat rows 2 and 3 five more times (60 sts).

Row 14:  Remove 2nd and 4th marker.  *Kfb, k to last st before marker, kfb, rep from * to end of row.

Row 15:  Knit.

Repeat rows 10 and 11 four times (80 sts).

Row 23:  Knit.  Repeat until it measures 8″ from beginning.

Turn row:  Purl.

Knit 5 rows.

Cast off.  Turn at purl row, stitch hem to body of cozy.

Sewing Hem

All ready for Part Eight:  Felting!

Tea Cozy Knitted


March 10, 2009

Hooray for friends who read your mind!  Scarcely a week after I searched the internet for dye plant seeds and sighed about my lack of ability to order them, I was given a bag full of seeds.  Look:

Woad Seeds

Woad Seeds

Aren’t they lovely?  I love dyeing with indigo, but I haven’t done it since I left college.  I’m really really excited to try it straight from the plant (fully prepared for lesser results!), and play with some different, more organic vat recipes instead of the chemical vat that we used at school.

So far, this is the most informative website I’ve found about it (really, the most informative website I’ve found about any plant, period).

I can’t wait until this doggone cold spell ends and I can get these pretties in the ground!

Part Six: Designing

March 7, 2009

This is it!  Decision time.  The teapot itself is too pretty to cover it up the whole time, so I’m going to go for the more traditional hat-like tea cozy rather than a shaped one that will button on and never get taken off.  It needs to be a bit oval to make room for the handle and spout, so I’m going to basically use a plain hat pattern and play with the shaping a bit.  I am terrible at predicting how long any given decrease section will be ( I constantly have to re-do the toes of my socks, they are always too short) so to make sure it doesn’t end up too big or small I think I’ll do it from the top down.  Hopefully this will also prevent me from running out of yarn eight stitches before the end.

Observant people may have noticed in the “after” swatch picture that some of the dye washed out in a bit of a blotchy shape.  I was grumpy about that, but when my darling boyfriend saw it before I could say anything, he said “Cool!  How did you do that?” so I guess it’s okay!  I’ll have to wait and see how it works on the real thing, maybe use some nicer soap.  If I really hate it, I can always overdye it.  Really observant people may have even noticed that my yarn is not, in fact, single ply any more.  Yeah, I made it three ply after all – it wasn’t thick enough.

My original swatch was 4″x4″, and shrank to 3.5″x3.5″ (didn’t shrink much, did it? Only 12%).  I want my finished cozy to be 20″ around and 7″ tall.  So my re-felted piece needs to be 23″ around and 8″ tall.  At 3.5 stitches per inch, that means it needs to be 80 stitches around after all the initial increases.

Part Five: Swatch

March 6, 2009

At last, it’s time to make some real decisions about what this thing is going to look like!  But first things first:  a swatch.  I confess I’m usually pretty lazy about swatches.  I do about a 2″ square (about a quarter the size of what’s generally recommended), do a quick measure, unravel it, and cast on.  This time though, since I’m planning to felt the final product, I’m going to have to do a proper swatch.  Sigh.

Step One: Knit a square approximately 4×4″.  Measure it (and don’t forget to write down the measurements!).

Swatch Before

Swatch Before

Step Two: Put it through the laundry.  With other stuff, for two reasons:  because they will provide extra friction for felting purposes, and because it would be silly to waste all that water on one little swatch.

Swatch After

Swatch After

Step Three: Measure again.  Compare with size of original and prepare to do some designing math!