Friday, November 8, 2013

Fairly Fiberous post no. 1: Bakewell Tarts

I've spent the morning test-baking almond tarts (aka Bakewell tarts) for my granddaughter's 5th birthday party, which will be a Beauty-and-the-Beast tea party extravaganza. Nonna is in charge of tarts and other dessert-y stuff, as well as tea sandwiches.

These tarts were first served to me by Mrs. Watson, the wife of James Watson of Watson Wheels fame, in September when we visited. (And there is the fiber tie-in, ladies and gentlemen!) You may recall that I begged the recipe from her. Mine aren't quite as pretty as hers were - she uses premade frozen mini tart shells, an item that is apparently impossible to find in the US unless I care to order them 200 at a time from a restaurant supply house. (Oddly enough, Walmart apparently carries them in some states - but not in mine.) So I had to make do with pie crust pressed into a muffin tin - not as aesthetic but still good.

I'm pretty pleased with how they turned out - though for children I think I'll use a mini-muffin size; these are two or three bites for an adult.

I am taking the majority of these to a spinning function this afternoon, in hopes both of properly disposing of dangerous objects and also to ingratiate myself, to be honest. I was invited to join this group and this is my first time attending, and I'm not sure what it'll be like, thus I will defend myself and my presence with Mrs. Watson's almond tarts. Food can be a good ice-breaker.

In other good news, it appears I have a buyer for my Ashford spinning wheel - a woman is coming to see it tomorrow. I'm glad it will go to a good home, though in getting it ready to go I've had more than one pang of misgiving - but I need to cull the herd, as it were, and it's time. The potential buyer seems really excited to have it too, which is great. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Fibery Week

Suddenly I am up to my elbows in fiber. (Not that it's a bad thing!)

It all began last Saturday at the chapter 2010 meeting of the NwRSA. When I had attended in September, I had not one dime on me, so I was unable to purchase a raffle ticket for that month's raffle basket, which is done to raise funds for the chapter and the guild. In a fit of guilt (yes, I am Catholic, can you tell?) I purchased ten tickets for October's basket - and promptly won it. Fortunately for me, someone warned me that She Who Wins the Basket Gets to Provide Next Month's Basket before I committed my $10. And I certainly got more than $10 worth of great items and anticipated fun!

(photos are clickable to embiggen)

Two purpley/pinky "mystery batts," some Opulent Fibers merino roving in what will be an ombré yarn of pinks and purple, cabled notecards, a lavender sachet, oatmeal soap, some cute stitch markers, and a lovely lavender ribbon yarn.

Then, I had made a date to get together with my friend and former boss, Joann, who now lives on Whidbey Island, to go to lunch and the Whidbey Weaver's Guild annual sale on Friday, November 1. I had never been to this sale before, though I understand it's been going on for some years - it was held at Greenbank Farm, a very fun place in and of itself. Most of the things for sale were finished items - lots of scarves, shawls, some hats...and over in one corner were the spinners, with that one corner dedicated to a couple of people demonstrating spinning (one on a Hansen miniSpinner [ed. note: have one, love it!], one on a Lendrum) and a couple of vendors selling - guess what? Fiber! Of course I had to buy some; one can never have too much, and I always like to support my local artisans - not to mention I have the challenge of making up November's raffle basket! Now I just have to decide what I'm actually willing to let go of!

Clockwise from upper right:Shetland top in lovely fall jewel colors; mystery fiber (looks like Merino and Cashmere) in lovely teals and blues; a cute felted soap in a little porcelain dish; 1 oz. of lambswool and Angora blend in grey; a braid of mixed wool roving in spring greens and yellow; lovely dark fiber from Iggy the Alpaca

On Saturday, my friend Marianne and I went down to KnitFit in the Ballard area of Seattle to go through their vendor's market. Even the trip there was exciting; I was driving in the midst of a rainy windstorm that shut down the SR520 Lake Washington bridge due to tremendous wave action and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people, including the neighborhood just adjacent to the KnitFit venue, which caused traffic snarls like you wouldn't believe. Fortunately for the gathering, the immediate area where it was held still had power. This is the second year for KnitFit, and I noticed that there weren't very many people shopping in the market - which makes browsing easy for those of us who are there, but isn't such good news for the vendors. I overheard a couple of them commiserating with one another about the lack of sales, and tying it back to it being a pretty new event - for their sake I hope that assessment is correct and things will be busier in future!

Marianne and I certainly did our part to support the local economy, though I'd sworn up and down and sideways I was done purchasing stuff until I'd managed to turn some of what I had into FOs...Ha. Like anyone ever sticks to that resolution. And here is what I came home with:

Fiber and beads for a shawl with a beaded edging. The fiber is subtle colors of steel grey, green, gold, yellow and cream - really hard to photograph. Half wool, half Tencel for a really soft feel. I only noticed this morning that the two tubes of beads aren't quite the same - but I'll just alternate!

Aaaand, the "Crayola box" fiber. Interestingly enough, my husband Joe is in love with this stuff. This is 25% Tussah silk, 75% BFL wool. I will ply it with black and it will look a bit like stained glass when knit up. I am thinking some sort of open-stitch sweater/wrap/vest.
Today will be spent in creating some sort of inventory system for stuff (all of these recent acquisitions join more existing supply than I want to admit exists), and then starting in on something. It'll either be the greeny stuff that goes with the beads, or the Crayola-colored stuff. 

Or maybe...hmm...

Monday, October 28, 2013

In the Spirit of International Relations

In my last post, I mentioned I'd put a down payment on a Watson wheel. I'm on the list, and expected delivery is about two years or so out. I'm not overly worried about that, actually; it gives me more time to save up to pay for the rest of it, and more time to get my spinning under control - I have other stuff I can play with in the meanwhile.

So, here's how it all went down:

Watson Wheels was founded by James Watson some years ago. Andrew, his son, worked along with him for several years, and then took over the business completely about four years ago.

I've been emailing back and forth with Andrew Watson for months - probably, frankly, driving him insane, but he's too nice to say so. I was pretty sure what I wanted to do - but it's just so difficult to spend that kind of money sight unseen - or more accurately, without having used one. I'd only seen pictures - gorgeous, but there's no substitute for test driving.

Andrew lives about 2600 miles away from me in eastern Ontario. But his parents don't.

The Watsons Senior live in British Columbia, our neighbor about two hours north. So I somehow finagled my way into an invitation to drop by their home and see a wheel while Joe and I were up in BC for a long weekend in September. I conned Joe into coming along with me on the visit by promising him tea at a nearby tea house.

Keeping in mind that I was the stranger barging my way in, I expected to spend half an hour at most - visit for a few minutes, try the wheel, say the right things, leave so that I don't impose. Well, that went by the wayside quickly - James and Patricia Watson are delightful people, and we spent over 2 1/2 hours with them. Mrs. Watson gave us tea with two kinds of tea cakes - and I later begged her recipe for Bakewell tarts, which as a heathen American I had never had before. They regaled us with stories of their engagement in London during the Great Smog, and showed us some of James' other woodworking - he is marvelously talented! It felt like meeting old friends we hadn't seen for a while. We never did make it out for tea; instead, we had it at the Watsons' home!

The wheel is a masterpiece - even if it was set up backward for my left-handed draw, I could tell I wanted one within moments of trying it.

And so now the waiting game begins.

I am now trying to sell my Ashford Traditional, and will likely sell two other wheels as well. Stay tuned as we see how that whole process goes!

Friday, September 27, 2013


For the last several months, I have been eyeing Watson Wheels.

Here is the backstory.

I have three - well, really, four- spinning wheels. I have a walnut upright that was my first wheel, a project wheel if ever there was one. I bought it for somewhere around $75 many, many years ago at an "antique" shop, and my husband Joe helped me retrofit it with an Ashford flyer and new leather bearings. I joke that it only spins reliably in one direction - but it's true; you can make all the singles you want, but the drive band jumps off if you try to ply in the other direction.

I have an Ashford Traditional double-drive with the flyer on the left - the standard issue Ashford that everyone seems to learn on.

I have Mutti's wheel, which I've never taken the time to conquer - and it's pretty clear it was someone else's project wheel. A quick conversation with my friend whose mother-in-law owned it reveals that Mutti never spun on it; instead she used - guess what? - an Ashford Traditional.

And I have a HansenCrafts MiniSpinner which I bought earlier this year for travel. Though not strictly a spinning wheel, this is what I am currently using to spin on pretty much exclusively.

I bought the Ashford probably 20 years ago, new in box, in pieces;  Joe finished and assembled it for me. And I've never really enjoyed spinning on it; I get back and arm pain if I spin on it for more than about half an hour at a time.

Well, guess what? I finally figured out why. (Duh.) I need a wheel with the flyer on the right side.

I hold the fiber supply in my left hand, and control the drafting with my right hand - seemingly backward for someone that's left-handed, but I've spent so many years doing fine motor control things with my right hand in order to get along in the right-handed world that it's more comfortable for me that way. That means the left-hand flyer on the Ashford makes me twist my body in weird ways in order to try to accommodate it - thus the back and arm pain.

I spent a little while trying to teach myself to go the opposite way - but it's too odd and I can't get the hang of it.

This means the Ashford will go away, and I want a different wheel.

I stumbled across Watson Wheels on Ravelry early this year, and quickly became enchanted with them. I have one on order now, and as with everything else I seem to do, there's a story behind that order.

I'll share that story with you soon. And I'm gathering up all the bits and bobs that go with my Ashford Traddy, and will be offering it for sale as soon as I figure out what a fair asking price is. I may also let the others go, if I can figure out prices for them too. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Mutti's wheel

As I work on getting my studio more studio-like and less storage-locker-like, I am sorting through my tools and equipment, looking at what to keep, what to discard or sell, what to replace.

And I am faced with the conundrum of this wheel.

(all photos are clickable for embiggenment)

Here is the story:

The wheel belonged to a girlfriend’s mother-in-law. She was very big into spinning, weaving, and knitting. When mom passed away in the mid-1990s, she left behind a quantity of fiber equipment, and I offered to purchase her drum carder. My girlfriend’s husband said that for the amount of money I was willing to pay him for the drum carder, I could have all of the equipment. That included this wheel.
Mom was from Germany, and emigrated to the United States in the early 1950s to marry her United States G.I. sweetheart. No one seems to know at this point, but I believe that she brought the wheel with her. Having met my girlfriend's mother-in-law at almost the same time as she had met her, I always knew her as "Mutti" ("MOO-tee") which must be the German diminutive for Mom or Mommy (as "Mutter" is German for "mother"), and in fact I never knew her first name until I heard it at her funeral.
I can’t tell what kind of wood it is made from. The distaff has been snapped in two and reglued, and there is evidence of various repairs made to the wheel over the years. There are multiple bobbins which fit this, but I suspect they are later additions. It came with another flyer as well, which is broken in two pieces; I suspect the flyer on the wheel is also a later addition. The orifice is lined with ivory or bone,I believe; the rod where the distaff inserts has a metal cap on it of some kind. It has Irish tension, and the same drive band it came to me with.

The wheel does spin pretty well. I have used it once or twice, but never extensively. Careful inspection has led me to believe she didn't use it much either, and part of the equipment I took over included a 1970s Ashford Traditional single drive, which I sold shortly after I acquired it.
I am debating whether to sell it, because it seems a shame just to have it sit around my house - I have three other wheels and am contemplating a fourth, which is causing Mr. Spins to make noises about divesting some of them - but it's hard for me to know whether there would be anyone interested in it with all its little quirks. None of the remaining family are interested in having it.
It is an odd little thing, and the wheel crank/footman arrangement is - um, interesting, but the footman does stay (mostly) attached at least, and it wouldn't be hard to craft something to keep it on the crank - even a wine cork might do it!

So - what does one do with a wheel like this? I'll let you know when I find out!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

And So it Begins

Hello, the aether!

I am currently in the process of preparing to launch a new adventure. Or perhaps it's revisiting an old one.

I have a lot of fiber preparation equipment, and I like to knit. I used to like to weave as well. I knew how to crochet and make bobbin lace.

I've lost a lot of my expertise with these skills, and in a couple of cases nearly all of it.

So - I am preparing to launch back in to the world of fiber fanatics. As part of that, I have been cleaning out the room that I would like to use as a studio. When we moved into this house in 1998, I stuck my small-car-sized loom in a corner of this large room, threw a blanket over it, and it's sat there ever since. It's about half warped for a chenille throw that I started - oh, probably ten or twelve years ago, found a mistake in the warping, and abandoned it.

I have two-and-a-half spinning wheels (one only spins reliably in one direction - and you thought that wasn't possible!) as well.

This will be the documentation of my journey - my online journal of progress and experiences.

Here is the "studio" - it's mostly a storage room at this point, although it doesn't look terribly bad after several hours of work already. Posting this so I hold myself accountable for progress!

Other things to expect from me in future? The search for a good drum carder, and the search for a truly good spinning wheel - these have already begun.

Thoughts and photos of projects.

Comments about my re-entry into the fiber world.

And whatever else occurs to me.