Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flax for spinning

I really enjoyed the show this weekend. I had an amazing time playing with Shelley and all of her yarn. Somehow I managed not to buy too, too much. I did bring home a bunch of goodies though. How can I resist? It IS yarn (and potential yarn) after all.

I'm just sort of resting this morning, drinking coffee, playing on Ravelry, and just treating myself to a calm, restful morning before I dive back into my Kant homework. (note to self: paralogisms, although fun, are not as easy as they first appear)

I'm hugely excited about the flax that Shelley brought down at my request.

Ever since I first realized that human hands can make yarn, I have wanted to spin flax. Don't ask me why this is. I simply feel drawn to it. The flax fibre has a smell to it. Most of the people I've talked to tell me it smells horrid, but I love it (as if you needed more proof that I'm not quite normal). It smells like fresh honey. I'm talking about the smell of a honeycomb that has just been harvested from the hive on a sunny day in late summer. It still smells of wheat and wind and clover, and long summer walks across corn fields. It smells like the summers of my youth. It smells like that beautiful moment when you are out for a walk in the country, munching on fruit, corn or grasses that you have gleaned along your way, you wonder into the middle of a flax field and the world is boundless. For that brief moment you forget that school will start soon, you forget that there are dishes in the sink, you forget everything except that one, beautiful moment when the wind ripples across the grain. That's what this flax smells like to me.

I bought three different types, all unbleached and all produced by Louet.

Euroflax long line stricts:

This stuff is quite course compared to the other two I brought home. I think it must be a hard working fibre as it feels strong and dense. I wonder if I could make a belt out of it.

Water retted flax top:

This is softer and delightful. I think that this is the middle quality flax. It's easy to draft and I think it will turn into quite a happy little yarn.

Softest of all is the super fine flax top:

The fibres are thinner and longer than the water retted top. They are also softer. I think this must have been harvested at a younger age and planted closer together. A sign that it was grown strictly for the fibre and not for the seeds. I think that this will finish up as a very soft but durable fabric.

ETA: Knitty has a great article about spinning flax.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Home Maker

Over the last few weeks, I have had a similar kind of conversation with several different people. It's about what can I do with my life; how can I take my new chemical sensitivities and make something positive from them? I tell you, it's a pretty difficult topic. There is a reoccurring theme and it has come up over, and over, and over again. It is Domesticity.

I'm not talking about your 19th Century ideal of an angel in the house, nor even the 50's ideal of a stay at home mom who spends every hour of the day preparing the house for when her husband comes home from work. I'm talking about reclaiming the word homemaking so that it becomes a non-gender-specific term to describe the process of simple every day living.

Look. If you have a roof over your head, by my standards, you have a home. Quite often, the people you love most share this place with you. It doesn't matter if you are male or female, single or married, a single parent taking care of a child, or a single child trying to take care of your parents. How you care for them, how you care for yourself and how you care for your home, speak volumes about your life. Your choice of food, how you cook it, how you clean up afterwards, &c.. All these things and more are a statement of who you are. It's about taking pride in where you live. It's about empowering the individual with the knowledge of how to live well. This is homemaking.

About a year ago I read an article in the local paper. It said that in our city, the average four person household requires over 60 hours of labour at just under double minimum wage (so that would be 100 hours at minimum wage) to provide the basic necessities of life. These necessities are things like rent, clothing, and food, but didn't include such luxuries as TV or bus-fare. That's a lot of work for such a small return. I thought certainly they must have got their numbers wrong, so I read on. Apparently, most of the money went into food, then rent, then clothing, cleaning supplies, and so on down the line. But, what really astounded me was how much these people (as it was an actual survey of people living just above the poverty line) were spending on all these items. They were spending more than three times the amount of money it actually costs to eat and up to ten times the actual cost of cleaning supplies. Were they exaggerating what they spent? I don't think so. What they were doing was wasting money by buying the wrong things. They were doing things such as buying ready made meals at, say, $6 a plate instead of cooking a nice oven roast at $2 a plate. For four people, that's a waste of $16 for just one meal. Multiply that by three meals (one day) and you get a waste of almost $50 a day. Not only that, but by buying prefabricated food, they are hurting both their health and the environment.

I wondered, do people do this because they are working too hard to prepare a proper meal? Maybe they just don't have enough time? Then again it takes as much effort to make an oven roast or a slow cooker meal as it does to make a prefab meal. Even less effort with the slow cooker as it is ready to eat as soon as you get home from work. So why then would the average working class Jo or Joanne waste that much money on something so damaging to their health?

Then, someone mentioned to me, maybe people don't know how to make food. Maybe their mothers (or fathers, or uncles, or aunts, or grandparents, neighbours, &c.) never taught them how to roughly chop some vegetables to make a soup in a slow cooker or how make leftovers yummy instead of depressing. Maybe they never learnt to buy vegetables when they were in season so as to get the best value and the highest nutrient content. Maybe they don't know what the best cut of meat is or how to cook it.

Just think what a family of four could do with 50 extra dollars a day. They could buy some of those little luxuries like bus-fare. Or perhaps, even better, they could work less. And that's just food. Imagine what could be accomplished by saving money on all other aspects of homemaking.

Perhaps, a person would say, that it takes too much time to live this way. It doesn't. If you can afford the time to eat at a restaurant or to open a packet of food and stick in the oven, then you have enough time to keep a good home. Not to mention, with the money you save by proper homemaking, you can work less and thus have more time for yourself.

Perhaps you think that helping the environment and saving money just don't go together. That's just not true. You can save money, help your health and help the environment. This is the trifecto. These three things go hand in hand. And they can be customized for vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, meat eaters, raw fooders, anything. Homemaking is just learning how to live the way you want to, only to do it smart.

Homemaking is old fashioned. No! And yes, people have been homemaking since the first shelter was built. This is not something that goes out of fashion. It is not something that is restricted to the middle-class stay-at-home-soccer-mom. Homemaking is empowering. It is taking back your life from the clutches of big businesses. It is "sticking it to da man". It is a powerful way to do your part for the environment and for yourself, and in my book, that never goes out of style.

So, why the big long rant? Well, if you are still with me after such a long blog post, maybe it was interesting.

The idea is that I would love to write a book about this. A book that would take what I have learned from 19th Century domestic manuals and make it applicable for people who live in the world today. I want to write something that would empower individuals to take back their lives by learning about good homemaking. I want to abolish the stereotype that a homemaker is chained to the stove, barefoot and pregnant.

When I think about the books that have changed my life more than anything else, I think of Frugal Indulgence and The Fabulous Girls Guide to Decorum. I want to write something like these, and when it comes to what I know best, it's homemaking.

Now, do I pitch this to a publisher first, or do I just start writing it? I've already made an outline.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

How to use a drum carder

I just had to laugh. These have to be some of the most enthusiastic instructional videos I have ever seen, and it tell you how to use a drum carder. Even if you don't spin, have a look, I think it will make you smile and give you a new appreciation of how enthusiastic fibre people can be.

Oh, and to that poor person I scared at work today by saying "I know you on Ravelry" at you, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you like that, I was just so excited to see a real live Ravelry person, I didn't think before I spoke. I do really like your blog by the way, I think it's off to a great start and I hope you get a new footman for your wheel soon (if not, message me on Ravelry and I can set you up with a couple of people here in town that can help with that).

ETA: here is the link for the second part of the video.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Quebec Wheel Cont.

A bit more about the Quebec Wheel for you today.

I was wrong about what the label said.

There was a second label at one time but it's gone now. I wonder if this label is added considerably after construction or if it something placed there by the maker. It already has that "J8" on it, so this may be an addition. After taking photographs of the label in different light and playing around with different contrast and huge saturation, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot quite make out what it says.

The signature dose show up the clearest. It's written with a fountain pen, a well worn one if I am not gravely mistaken, which is in keeping with the information I have on it. Anyone want to have a guess at what this says?

I have a Kant essay that's been neglected lately, so I had best put the spinning aside for a day or so while I finish it up.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Quebec wheel

I saw an advert in the Guild newsletter for a very adorable, small, and portable wheel known as the peacock for sale at an exceptional price. The problem is that although my Ashford Traditional wheel works marvelously well, it is rather large for taking from one place to another. I thought that perhaps one additional, but considerably smaller wheel would fit nicely in the apartment and would easily satisfy all my spinning needs. It's funny how life doesn't work out according to plan.

Instead, the peacock wheel was sold, but there were some lovely other items available at a 'considerable discount'. I received three items from her, and each one of them will receive a different post as they are all special and delightful in their own way.

First, the Quebec Wheel

Isn't she gorgeous? When I saw this wheel I thought to myself, I simply have to try it out. What do you know, not only was it in working order, it spins exactly like I love to: thin and fast. I knew immediately that this was the wheel for me. Even though I still love my Ashford dearly, I feel that as time goes on, I'll use my Quebec more and more as it really is a perfect match.

I know the ownership pedigree back to the 1940 or 1930s, but I suspect her of being considerably older. One of the previous owners spun exclusively flax and linen on it. It may be that I failed to achieve my aim of buying a smaller, more portable wheel, as you can see from this next photo that my new Quebec wheel is considerably larger than my Ashford.

The Quebec wheel has had a lot of life and it shows. It's a double drive single treadle wheel, but the little details like the addition to the treadle (both the rubber no-slip bits and the extension where the heal sets to make for a more rocking action) and the previous applications of wood filler here and there are all monuments to different owners and different stages of its life so far. The drive wheel shows gaps where the sections are held together. Despite all the rain we get, the air is surprisingly dry around here. It doesn't effect the operation of the wheel in any way that I can discern. Someone has tried in the past to fill in the gaps with wood filler, to no avail.

There is a small bit of paper glued to the wheel, I cannot quite make out what it says, but I think the signature is "S Jensons" and there is a "J8" carved into one end of the wheel. There isn't enough information on the Internet at the moment to do any in depth research, so I'll subscribe to the Spinning Wheel Sleuth. If I enjoy their publication, I'll order some back issues that might prove helpful in learning more.

Even though it works, the wheel still needs a bit of love and attention. For one thing it has been sitting around for months if not years without being used and gathering dust. So I take a gentle cleanser like Murphy's Oil soap (made of natural ingredients specifically designed to GENTLY clean wood) and following the directions on the bottle, take a soft cloth and wipe down all the wooden parts of the wheel.

Then, once that's completely dry, I take a natural oil, in this instance lemon oil as it cleanses even more as it conditions the wood, a different soft cloth, and some gloves and rub in the oil.

This is almost all the wheel really needs. I could of course remove all the additional modifications, but that would be only if I wanted to display it as a work of art. I would much rather leave on the wheel all the additions that previous owners lavished on this wheel as it makes me feel humble and honoured to spin on it.

I am having trouble removing the flyer assembly for cleaning. I want to get the gunk and dust out of there and to give it some fresh lubricant but the maidens are seized up. It also only has one bobbin so I will want to get more in the near future. I'll deal with that later on as it spins delightfully at the moment and I have other toys to play with.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

in preparation

To get you in the mood for what I'll talk about over the next few days, have a look at this video. I can't make out what they are saying, but there are some wonderful images of traditional spinning methods and fibre prep.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Seven years are over

I think that my seven years of bad luck might have finally come to an end. On my outing today I received four very special things. Two I bought... I was given...

...and one that was bought for me...

(no photos yet, sorry)

Care to guess what they are?

I'll blog about it tomorrow; but you know, I've had nothing but bad timing and worse luck since January 2000. I shouldn't have broken that mirror, even if it was an accident. Thank goodness these things don't last forever.