Wednesday, December 30, 2015


We just had an earthquake.  Moved some stuff in the house and it felt like the roof wanted to fall off.  But in the end, everyone's fine and nothing's broken.

Spooked the llamas.  Had to reassure the goats.  Sheep took it in stride.

Me, I put the kettle on.  Gonna have a cuppa tea before going back to bed.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

cleaning house

I'm cleaning house as part of my New Years tradition.

Posting photos here so I can link to them from somewhere else.

First photos:  Lissajous Socks in need of knitter.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Weaving on the backstrap loom

Weaving this project on the backstrap loom has been a great learning experience.  Following an excellent tutorial, I'm weaving my very own back strap for my backstrap loom.

All that remains is to braid the ends and attach the loops that go on the loom bar.  

Some of the things I learned:

One needs something very sturdy to attach the loom to.  At times it takes more tension than most weaving I`ve tried.  

This is not the right yarn for this project.  I used 8-2 cotton which is suppose to be great for weaving.  The problem is that it clings together and pills as I switch from one shed to another.

It takes practice to get the posture right.  At first, I can only weave for a couple of minutes before my back hurt.  A week of daily weaving, and I can manage about 45 minutes.  

I need to work more on my selvage edges.  

Uneven tension in the warp shows up more than I expected and makes weaving frustrating.

On the whole, I'm very pleased.  I'm looking forward to trying some weft patterns soon.  Or perhaps a bit of tablet weaving.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Backstrap Weaving

Lately, I've been teaching some of my friends kids to weave.  There are a lot of lovely looms out there that they can learn on.  Kids have a natural talent for weaving and learn the basics at light speed.  What an adult takes weeks to learn, a kid can pick up in an afternoon.  

One of the problems with kids and weaving, is that many of the good looms are adult priced.  Kid priced looms seem to be shoddy things that get one excited, but are difficult to upgrade as the weaver's skill improve.  

So I decided to make my own loom based on one of the most common designs in history - and perhaps one of the best tutorials I've ever seen - A Backstrap Loom

Here are three looms I made.

Actually, I had help.  I don't like the power tools and cutting all these sticks by hand would take me an hour.  Instead, it was all of 2 minutes to cut the sticks.  Another 13 minutes to make the shuttles.  We used a piece of wood for the shuttle that will double as a sword if needed.  It's enough to get started weaving and we can expand on it as the weaver's interests grow.

The only thing that is missing from the loom is the piece of cloth - or strap - that goes around the back of the weaver.  To prove that the student is interested enough in weaving to earn his or her own loom, I set up my loom with the warp, show them how, send them home and tell them to weave their own backstrap.  They do this, they get their own set of sticks.

Here's the loom partway set up.  So simple.  A few sticks, a bit of string.

If you have a moment, google 'backstrap weaving' and have a look at some of the amazingly complex cloth people create using such simple tools.  I'm simply in awe of the inspiration and skill of people who use these looms on a regular basis.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A humming bird

Sorry about the colour.  He is much more amethyst in real life.

Never seen a fella like this before.  He sure is cute.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Where to find fibre flax seed - for spinning, weaving, textiles - you know, making linen!

Lately I've been having a great deal of fun growing flax, spinning it into yarn and transforming it into linen cloth.  Flax grows wonderfully well here, and when planted before the end of March, it requires very little human assistance like weeding (too cold for most weeds to grow) or watering (had sufficient time to grow roots before the rain stops).

The biggest problem with growing flax for spinning, is finding the right seed.

The flax plant we use for making yarn is the same plant as we use for flax seed, linseed, linseed oil, animal feed, and several other applications that may surprise you.  That said, different cultivars or varieties of flax are better for some things than for others.  Some flax has a short, bushy stem.  This is great if you want a lot of flowers or seeds, but not so awesome if you are making yarn.  Flax for spinning, has a single stem, about 2 to 4 feet tall, with very few branches and blossoms.  Some of how the plant grows can be influenced by the gardener.  For example if we want taller, longer stems, we plant the seeds closer together.  For the most part, the characteristics of different flax varieties have been selected for generations based on what sort of use the people wanted.

Here are some sources of fibre flax seed or seed that may be able to produce fibre for spinning, that I've found over the years.  Some of these ship to Canada only, others to the US, others to lots of different places.  

The Flax to Linen Project...

....are the wonderful people who taught me how to transform flax into yarn.  They don't have the most active of web presences, however these people are enthusiastic about brining flax into the community.  Quite often, on a sunny, summer day, you will find this group demonstrating flax processing at the local farmer's market.  The group originally began as part of the Transition movement, with the aim to preserve useful skills for future generations.

In the past, they sell seeds by donation to help fund their public demonstrations.  The seed is organically grown in Victoria, BC (well, Saanich actually).  I don't know what their current seed selling policy is, but it's worth a shot asking them if you are interested in growing your own flax.

Variety: Electra - developed by Biolin Research, Alberta

I've grown this two years in a row and am impressed with how it preforms, both in the garden and in processing into linen.  I've experimented a little bit with planting timing, planting as early as January and as late as the end of May.  The late Feb plantings did best for me.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds...

...occasionally has fiber flax available.  Perhaps if more people start requesting it, they will bring it back as a regular item.

They also carry a few other heritage varieties of flax that look promising for fibre production. Just because they don't say these are for making linen, dosen't mean they can't be used for it.  All flax has fibre hidden in it's stem, perhaps it just needs the right conditions to make it useable.

Richters Herbs...

... also has fibre flax from time to time.

At the moment of writing, they have Evelin Fibre flax in stock, but Reginia Fibre Flax is out of stock.   They also have a listing called 'flax' which may also be useful for fibre making.  I can't tell how tall it is from the description, but if one had the room, it would be worth trying.

Wild Fibres UK also has flaxseed, however I don't know if they ship overseas or not.  

Flax for Sale is a place in the US that sells seeds as well as fibre for spinning.  They don't mention if they ship internationally.

Woolgatherers sells Marilyn Flax seed which originates from Holland.

Know of any other sources of flaxseed?  Please let me know in the comments section.

Other thoughts about flax seed.

Flax takes about 120 days to grow from seed to harvest, The first half of that time it needs plenty of moisture and can easily withstand frost.  For the last 60 days, it enjoys dry weather.  For that reason, I like to plant mine very early in the year.  I always keep back a bit of seed just in case there is an especially heavy frost, but so far, I've not needed to reseed.

I've seen several mention of flax being planted as an over-winter crop.  Planted in the fall, like grain or fava beans, it grows a little, then goes dormant until late winter when it takes off at an accelerated rate.  This seems to be traditional for the Alps and Himalayas.

The flax flower is self fertile, having both male and female parts.  It is considered an inbreeder, with an observed pollination by insect at 3% (that's less than tomatoes).  When saving seeds, the recommended isolation distance between varieties is 0 - zero what, it dosen't say.   (Breed Your own Vegetables Varieties by Carol Deppe)

It doesn't say if that information is for modern agriculture or an organic setting that has fewer pesticides and more bugs.  I've noticed when I grow flax at home that pollinators seems quite fond of my flax flowers.  So, it is possible that flax is more willing to promiscuously pollinated than previously thought.

Given these thoughts, flax may not be the best plant in the world to use for landrace gardening, but it has some potential.  I hope this year to experiment with different types of flax and different planting times.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Spinning with a friend

A friend of mine is learning to spin yarn on a wheel.  She loves creating colourful, textured yarn and I love watching her.  I'm very lucky she choose my wheel to learn on.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Flax processing tools

dried flax plant with seed pod

removing the seed pods with a dowel

seeds ready to winnow

Once the flax is retted and dried, we break the flax.
This begins separating the boon (chaff) from the fibres

The flax is then scratched using a wooden sword and board to remove more boon from the fibre.

The flax is then passed through the hackles, starting with coarse ones like this

Long and spiky, these hackles work well.
Traditionally the spikes would not be round, but have three or four sides,
with very sharp corners

Carding cotton into punis

Cotton Boll

Seeds easily removed by
gently holding fibre and pushing out the seed

Charge the cards with the fibre

Card the cotton to organize the fibre

Rolling the carded cotton around a knitting needle

To create a puni which keeps the fibre organized and easy to spin
The cotton I'm working with for the tutorial didn't come in boll form (that's from a floral shop), but rather it's already been removed from the spiky shell and is ready to separate from the seed.  The seeds are about as heavy as the fibre, so a pound of cotton, actually makes about half a pound of fibre, and half a pound of seed.  But with luck, maybe these seeds will grow and the house will be full of cotton houseplants.

Monday, September 14, 2015

cast-on bonnet for auto knitter sock machine

There are some times in life when one simply needs professional help.

About three years ago, when my arthritis finally forced me to stop knitting, I received the  most wonderful machine: An ancient circular sock knitting machine made by Auto Knitter.  I had great fun trying to get it to work, and I was nearly there, but in the end, life happened, and it was time to put the machine away.

Although, to tell you the truth, at the time, I think I had the machine working perfectly, it was simply the user that was broken.

So, for the first time in over a decade, things in my life started to calm down and I was able to take my Auto Knitter to a mentor and see if he could fix it (or the user) so that knitting could happen.  Getting help from someone with loads of experience and enthusiasm for the machine - that was amazing.

I'm very happy to learn that it was mostly user error.  I now know how to do the knit stitch, picot edging, decrease, yarn overs, cast on, cast off, and change yarns.  Yet to learn are turning a heal and the purl stitch, but once I know those I can make just about anything.

To practice my new skills, I have been making cast on bonnets.

It's a funny looking thing, but what it does is provide an easy way to cast on stitches on the knitting machine.  Trust me, it really does.  Maybe I'll show you some time.

This one is for my 80 needle cylinder - see, 8 stripes.  I'll make one for my other cylinders once I have them up and running.

The ultimate goal, once I have the machine running perfectly, is to make socks with yarn I've spun, with wool from my sheep.  Hopefully it doesn't take another three years to get there.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Cotton silk puni

This is my first attempt at making a cotton & silk puni.

The yarn it made was pretty good, but a bit more slubby than I liked.  With a bit of practice I think I can create much better punis (cotton roll thingies that organize the cotton for easy storage and spinning).

I have some purple silk fluff that I don't really know what to do with.  The staple length is short, only about 1/2 inch long.  So I thought, why not blend it with cotton for a long draw style spinning?

So I bought some cotton from ARaysCreations on etsy.  I bought an entire pound of it, which is a lot when it comes to cotton.  This cotton is unprocessed, it still has seeds in it.  The seeds are a bit fuzzy, so the fibre isn't super-easy to get off, but with a light touch, it come off fast enough.  Certainly faster than picking vegi matter out of wool.  I'll be saving the seeds with the idea that maybe they will grow.

To make the puni, I applied both silk and cotton fibre to the hand cards and followed this tutorial.  It spun up quickly on my charkha wheel.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Pretty handspun yarn

Merino, corriedale, baby alpaca, angora, and silk blended together on my wild carder - all little bits I had left over from teaching some spinning.  I played it with a fine single of bombyx silk that I 'borrowed' from another project.  Final yarn is textured, soft, with a strong silk core.

I've half a mind to put this on my etsy shop, but Knotty by Nature put in a request for more yarn, so It's going there tomorrow with a few skeins of alpaca/icelandic wool yarn.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Shooting star

Last night I saw the biggest and brightest shooting star I've ever seen.  It was huge, like an airplane and although it was bright white with all the colours like a prism, it was at the same time deep crimson.  It came in very steep and felt like it would hit the trees across the road, but I'm certain it was much further away than that.  Just before it drew even with the tree tops, it winked out.  I don't think it touched the ground, but it was amazing to see a meteor that large and that close.  I had to be looking in that exact direction, at that exact moment, on that exact day.  Half a second delay or too soon, and I would have missed it.  That rock, or chunk of ice fell into this planet's atmosphere at that exact time, and it will never do so again.

Not much later in the night, just before Tuesday finished with us, my grandfather passed away.  He had been very poorly the last few days, and in the end it was a blessing that he didn't have to suffer anymore.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Green cotton

Every insomniac knows, there's a point in the night when one realizes that sleep simply won't come.  For me, it's usually Monday nights, I don't know why, perhaps it's just the horrible notion that Tuesdays hate me.

Instead of venturing to the land of nod, I spent the night spinning cotton.

I call this colour - ghost of green

Beautiful, natural colours of cotton.  I'm fascinated and inspired that cotton has so many natural colours.  Browns, golden, bage, green, red, white, and I bet even more.  For more on naturally coloured cotton, check out FoxFibre - Sally Fox has some amazing cotton plants that she's bred over the years, 

off white, unbleached cotton
These days I'm working on my support spindle skill - perfecting my cotton spinning on a takli spindle.  It's very portable and fast.  Not to mention, it fits an impressive amount of thread on the shaft before needing to unwind.

Sometimes I feel like using my charkha wheel.

I've even been playing with cotton bolls and discovering different ways of preparing the fibre for spinning.

Then there's the plant...

These days, every time I want to grow something exotic, someone tells me 'it won't grow here'.  In the past, I've believed them, only to find the next year that everyone is growing it.

So this year, I've stopped believing them and decided to try cotton for myself.  So far it's right on schedule.  Don't know if it will make fibre yet or not, but hope it does.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Rigid Heddle magazine coming soon

Recently, I received a brilliant little Rigid Heddle loom.  It makes weaving a snap and can do some amazing tricks.  But that's a story for later.

About the same time, a new magazine was calling for submissions.

A magazine about Rigid Heddle weaving.

A rigid heddle loom I saw long ago

Just a hint, it's something well worth keeping an eye on.  I don't know if I'm allowed to say any details yet, so, I'll just say I'm excited about what's coming up.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Wild, native silk moths - what a wonderful excuse for a walk in the woods

I've been thinking about wild silk moths again.

These days,'wild silk' seems to mean two distinctly different things.

The most common meaning is that the silk is produced from domesticated silkworms in a way that does not kill the 'worm'.  The silkworm is allowed to hatch from the cocoon before harvest, this creates a textured thread as the individual silk fibres are broken as the moth chews its way from the cocoon.  This is different than regular harvest style, which creates a very smooth silk, the worm (caterpillar) is killed, then the silk is reeled from the cocoon in one long strand.

But that's not what I'm talking about.

What I want to talk about, are silk moths that live in the wild.  There are all sorts of different types of moths that produce a useable silk.  Several of which are native to my area.  If one is lucky enough to find a giant cocoon or three in the wild woods, one might be able to hatch out some moths.  A boy moth meets a girl moth and they make moth eggs, which hatch into caterpillars, which create silk, which can then hatch into moths... and the cycle continues.

Then again, there are places out there which do both - wild silk from foraged wild silk moth cocoons.

These are some Polyphemus cocoons I hatched out a few years ago.  They are a beautiful large silk moth, with big 'eyes' on their wings.  Four lovely moths hatched out, but alas, the mood wasn't right or something, and the moths didn't decide to bless me with worms.

Some native silkmoths are endangered, harmed by declining habitat and chemicals.  So any attempt to catch and raise these moths, should be undertaken with care and consideration for the overall silkmoth population.

The wonderful thing about wild silk moths, is that they eat a large variety of leaves.  Unlike domestic silkworms that want either oak or mulberry, most wild silk moths are willing to consume dozens of species of trees.  This makes feeding the little masters so much easier.

My plan this winter, is when I take my goats for a walk in the woods, I will keep an eye out for wormsign.  Cocoons.  Sometimes in the leaf litter, other times in branches of trees, who knows where.  I bet if I keep my eyes open, I might just find something exciting.

Some silk moths that may live around here (including a bit about what they eat)
Polyphemus of course
Hyalophora cecropia
Hyalophora columbia
Hyalophora euryalus

Here's a list of moths native to British Columbia, and another list of North American that create silken cocoons that have potential for silk harvest. I suspect my list of possible native silk moths for my area is woefully incomplete.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Fall Shearing, 2015 and beer brings deep clothing talk

11 sheep got a haircut today.  Got 6 nice lambs fleece, first shearing, and one nice adult fleece - all lovely for handspinning.  The rest were too tippy or short so I put them to one side for felt making.

To start with we made a pen with pallets and binder twine.  The trick with this sort of pen, and hurdles in general, is to stagger them in a zig zag style for strength and support.

Larry certainly has grown this last year.

I remember when he was cute little fluff ball that followed us everywhere.  

After wrestling sheep in the mud, I got a bit thirsty.  So, in my same sheep wrangling cloths, I went to my local brewery to fill up my growlers.  Growlers are basically two ltr jugs that we take to the beer making place and they fill them up with fresh beer.  In my opinion, growlers are a good thing.

I like this brewery.  It's new and getting quite famous, so there are usually some tourists or townies hanging about.  But the bread and butter business seems to come from people in fluorescent safety gear or overalls.  The brewer(s) make beer on site, in locally made vats, while employing local people.  The beer is brewed in small batches and it is darn fine stuff.

There was a fella there, and somehow we started talking about clothing lines produced in North America, and how few there are these days.  Bla bla bla, environmental impact, labour issues, stuff like this.  I made my usual comment about how awareness of local issues like food have made people receptive, maybe it's time that there were more locally made clothing from local materials.

He replied along the lines that yes, it's important and yes it would be a good thing, however, making a big deal of the local issue is too gimmicky.  It's better to make a quality product and focus on that.  If that means using local materials and employing local people, then people who care about it will seek it out.

It was quite a powerful thought for me.  Being thirsty, I immediately connected it to the fresh beer that was filling my growlers while we talked.  Why did I choose this brewery?  There must be over a dozen within easy drive of my home, most of them fill jugs.  I passed at least 10 other sources of locally made alcohol in the 5 minutes it took me to get to the brewery.  Why do I buy my beer here?  The atmosphere, sure.  The localness, also important.  But it's the taste more than anything.  The quality of the beverage brings me back.

So maybe it is a good time to start producing locally made clothing from local materials - but not solely as an act of rebellion against globalization (or whatever we are ranting again these days) but as a source of quality, long lasting, everyday wear.  Something that is dearly missing in our world.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Carding alpaca and icelandic with bamboo

Carding today.  Icelandic wool with Alpaca fibre from my rescue boy Tyrone.  Tyrone's fibre is as soft as his personality - very.  A splash of bright copper coloured bamboo dyed by an artizan up island.  Both the sheep and the alpaca wool come from my farm.  Talk about local.

The copper is shiny and shimmers in the light.  This will make some lovely textured yarn.

Been a difficult year for the animals, especially sheep.  Drought makes it so we have to buy them more feed, and with the second and third hay crop being sparse, the cost for their keep has jumped.  No grass to munch on is hard on their teeth too, as they nibble at the scrubby bits of brown grass next to the ground, get dirt in their teeth that wear them down so quickly.  Don't know about the winter.  But I do know they need to do more to earn their keep or we will have to cull a good chunk of the flock.  Makes me sad, but that's farming.  Prices go up,  Income stays same.

But the good news is that the shearer is coming soon for the fall fleeces.  Yes, another expense, but worth it.  He does my fall health check for my grass munchers to catch anything I might have missed.  The fall fleece is the best, as it hasn't had the weather and winter rains beating at it.  5 Lambs fleeces to look forward to.  The adults suffered stress from the drought, so the fleeces there won't be very good for spinning, but maybe I can experiment with felt making.  Never made felt before, but it looks like fun.  Short fibre wool is suppose to felt well.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fibreshed and random thoughts

Lately I have this thought in my head.  It's not completely formed up yet, but it's getting there.

A video about fibresheds (fibersheds for those in the USA)

A fibreshed is like a water shed or foodshed, but about clothing.  It's the bioregional area around us where we can source the raw materials needed to cloth ourselves.  An amazing thought.

In the video she uses a lot of cotton, which does not grow in my area.  But flax does and it's awesome.  I've been learning a lot about flax through the local flax to linen group.  Warmth from wool, llama and alpaca.  Cool clothing from linen.

I wonder lately why my opinions of hand made clothing is so crewed.  I imagine ugly blocky garments from bulky yarns.  But why?  It doesn't have to be that way.

This idea is about beautiful clothing of classic design, that can be produce by local artisans using local materials.  Like people use to in the past.  Maybe not a whole wardrobe, but a substantial amount of it.

I want people to see that hand made textiles can be luxury as well as artful.  I don't know how to put it yet.

To help make space and fund my sheep's voracious appetite, I've re-opened my etsy store.  This time I want to focus on the more luxurious items.  Fibre, yarn and cloth, all made as much as possible from locally sourced materials.