Friday, February 29, 2008

She hit the wall.

After a week long run of no naps, going to bed late, getting up early, running herself ragged, and generally acting like a two-year-old, the Goober's body finally stepped in and told her brain 'that's enough, time to rest now'.

We call this sleeping position 'splatted into the bed'. Usually she naps for an hour. Today she slept like that, barely moving (I kept checking to see if she was breathing, paranoid Mum that I am), for three hours.

Then she woke up and ate half a pizza. (Okay, two pieces, but the way she was putting it away, it SEEMED like half a pizza.)

Still knitting on the Russian Prime (sleeve's about half done) and already dreaming of knitting up the Bendigo wool Bells sent me ages ago; I've decided that's my next project. 'Cause I don't have enough going on around here.

The husbeast has been working insane hours lately, and then going out to drink beer and smoke cigarettes after (an old friend is in town for the week), so it's been agreed that this will be a Me Weekend. As in, he has the Goober and I do whatever I want. Mostly I intend to knit like the wind, but I'll probably buckle under and dye some yarn... I've got some cochineal here that would make a nice, red pair of socks. Or I can play with these long color graduations some more; I've got some further ideas on how to take advantage of the process.

It would be nice if that pound of wool I ordered got here tomorrow, so I could spend the weekend spinning.

Obsessed? Me?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Topic jumping.

I've got a bunch of unrelated stuff today. (Gee, that never happens around here.)

First off, it turns out that Mayan Blue, the one paint I discussed in the blue post, is kind of a mystery. In these days of spectral analysis, you can easily tell what elements and molecules are in just about anything -- but figuring out how it was made, is something else again. At any rate, some gunk was found in the bottom of a bowl which may unravel the mystery. Details here. I think the most amazing thing in the article (at least to me) was the fourteen foot layer of pigment in the bottom of the sacrificial pond, presumably washed off hundreds of years' worth of sacrifices. Fourteen FEET. Of PIGMENT. Oy.

I went to the doc today, tinkered with my medication a bit, and discussed some bloodwork I had done. All the new medication is agreeing with me - the liver and kidney output is just fine. This is a relief to me, because I had an uncle die of liver failure, and I absolutely don't want to go down that road, myself.

The Goober is two. Now she's acting like it. The other night, she put her little hands on her little hips, and put her little nose in the air, and said "No. Not gonna." The husbeast and I have agreed, it's really tough not laughing at her when she's pulling the attitude. The hands on the hips in particular cracks us up. She also likes playing with my camera:

Last night I bought a pound of pre-dyed wool to spin... I hope when it's done someone will want to buy it. At the moment I'm still spinning the silk, but it's rough. I'm taking a day off for my fingers to recover. So for entertainment, I dyed more color gradiations today:

I think tomorrow I'm gonna try doing Mermaid Tail as a long color repeat. Bwahahahah.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I still suck at moderation.

Yesterday was the first day I felt really good in, well, way too long. (I'm not gonna think about how long, it'll just depress me and blow the whole feel-good thing.) (Still not thinking about it.) (Really.) Anyway. I got going on the fiber stuff and just couldn't seem to stop. I'd try to take a break and the next thing I knew, there I was knitting on the Russian Prime.

I'm not complaining, really, but boy does my arm hurt today.

First thing I did was some experimental dyeing. You guys are gonna love this:

Super-long color graduations. See how the outer edge of the skein is darker than the inside? It starts at light blue and shades toward a dark aqua, over two hundred (ish) yards. I did two skeins - one for each sock. Then I was having so much fun I did three more sets of yarn in different color graduations - light to dark green, indigo to dark purple, and one experiment that's all murky grays and dark greens and blues.

I finished up dyeing the silk hankies:

Everything I've ever read says that silk takes up dye well and easily. HAH. This little project was just a nightmare. In the future (if I ever work with silk hankies again, see below), I'm going to buy the damn things pre-dyed.

Then the light was good - for once - so I took a pretty good photo of the yarn I spun LAST week:

I think I know what I'm gonna do with this. AFTER I do the Christmas knitting and finish up three or four more projects laying around here. (We shall not discuss the number of things awaiting finishing - mostly sewing up, end-weaving, and blocking. But I can think of three sweaters offhand.)

In the midst of all that (dyeing doesn't really take a lot of brain power, or even much attention - put stuff in pot, turn on, set timer, walk away), I plotted out the basic idea for my mother-in-law's Christmas sweater, with an eye to making a pattern. Came up with a new way to write patterns (at least new to me - I'm sure someone else has thought of it), and trawled the internet for photo inspiration:

Then I got sidetracked, cruising Google Earth for megaliths, and I now understand why the UK pioneered 'salvage archeology' - they've got ancient ruins everywhere you look. Good grief.


Last night I tried to force myself to take a break, again, and the next thing I knew, I was in front of the wheel messing around with the silk:

That's two hours' spinning. Silk hankies are a bitch to work with (or else I have totally missed the boat on how to use them, but I don't think so). I really like the yarn produced (unfortunately), and will persevere since there's nothing else in the house to spin at the moment. Tomorrow.

Today, all I wanna do is take a nap. But as soon as I fall asleep, the Goober will go through the house playing with all the clocks (buttons are her new favorite thing), and I will wake up thinking it's next Tuesday. So I guess it's tea for me.

And probably knitting. I need to get a grip.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hello, mojo.

Whether it was the spinning wheel that sparked it, or my thyroid medication continuing to kick in, or the fact that the fruit trees here are starting to flower, SOMETHING turned the knitting mojo back on.

I started the sleeve of the Russian Prime. In that photo, the chest portion is on the left, and the sleeve has been picked up and is being knit down to the wrist, on the right. Remember when I said stranded knitting is square? (The row gauge and stitch gauge are the same.) Here's your proof. The sleeve stitches are picked up in pattern, and then you rotate the chart ninety degrees and off you go, knitting in another direction. This is an excellent way to hide the unflattering shoulder lines on most drop-shoulder sweaters. And it looks really freaking cool, if I do say so myself. Picking up the stitches in pattern isn't difficult, just a little tedious. It took me twenty minutes or so. Once you find your place in the pattern, it's plain old stranded stitch from there on out.

I also finished up the hibiscus dye job. Yes, it really did take a week; each skein did three or four days in the pot.

On the left is the skein that came out first; the colors look right on my monitor, it's a nice mauve. On the right is the one that came out second, a rather ordinary but okay brown color. Having discussed this with a chemistry-geek friend, we suspect one of two things happened: either the purple colorants in the flowers (anthocyanins) broke down to brown with all the heat, or else there really are two types of colorant in there, and the first dye job removed the purple (safflower does that - you can get yellow and pink dye out of it). We're leaning toward the heat destruction: it's exactly the same thing that happens when you overcook red cabbage and it turns that disgusting brown color. At least this brown is kind of nice.

Then, when I was plying the blue wool, I had a little left over on one bobbin (don't you HATE when that happens?) and I figured, what the hell, I'd give chain-plying another try. It went a lot better, now that I have a clue and started with a single that wasn't overspun. I still need more practice, but this is something you could actually use, unlike the last attempt.

At the moment, I feel terribly clever. But I'm attempting to dye some silk as I type, and I have a bad feeling that project will go south and put my ego back where it belongs.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Purple's an interesting color. Because, technically, it doesn't exist. Well, it depends on who you ask, but a physicist will tell you there's no such thing as purple. It's known as a 'non-spectral color', meaning it's not part of the natural spectrum. In a color wheel, the rainbow is looped into a circle, and the ends (red and blue) are linked with purple. But in real life, there's no link. The extreme end of the blue wavelengths is known as violet, but it's really more of a very deep blue.

Linguistically, the term purple is also odd, because for a long time, it didn't exist. Many cultures (both ancient and modern) use the term blue to cover the entire gamut of shades between blue and purple, leading to a whole lot of argument as to exactly what ancient texts are referring to. (More on that later.) But the English term for purple is quite easy to trace; it's first known use was in the Lindisfarne Gospels (see left), written around 700 CE. The term comes from the Latin term for purple murex dye (purpura), which comes from the even older Greek term for the shellfish the dye was made from. The name of the Phonecians, the sea-going people who got rich selling murex dye, translates roughly from Greek to mean "Purple People". Murex was a big freakin' deal in the ancient world, and still is in many scholarly circles.

Before getting into the history of murex - which should probably be a post all its own - a quick word on purple paints in pre-industrialized society. Basically, there aren't any. Very high-quality ultramarine had a purple cast to it, and was sometimes used. Purple shades were also sometimes produced by overpainting blue with a transparent red glaze. And then there was realgar.

Realgar is a crystalline form of arsenic sulfide, and as such, pretty darn toxic. It's worse than orpiment, it's yellow cousin, and orpiment is pretty bad. Realgar is also very rare and hard to find, and isn't quite purple as we know it; it's more a red-violet. When it was available, people did use it for paint. But it was not a common material. This stone was known as 'dragon's blood' among some Mediterranean cultures, and there has been speculation that it was realgar, used as a dye, that is the basis for those legends where a tunic was dipped in dragon's blood and the person who wore it died. (Remember, back them people wore the same clothes day in and day out, often to bed at night also, so we're talking major exposure, not like today's world where we'd wear it once every couple weeks.)

I suspect this lack of purple pigments is why murex was such a big deal.

After doing some research, the surprising thing is, shellfish that produce some kind of snot that turns pinkish purple on exposure to light are not rare. I've found mention of different types scattered all over the world; not just the Med, but in Japan, Central America, England (yes, you read that right - they're in the Bristol Channel), and very likely along the coasts of India. (Or were, before ancient people used them all.) It's not murex, the snail snot, that's the big deal. It was the PROCESS of making Tyrian Purple dye from the murex, that was what the ancient world went ga-ga over. The process was kept secret, of course, and so what with the various wars, sackings, raids, and famines, the secret was eventually lost.

The dye pigment, the actual molecule, is almost identical to the colorant in indigo, and the dye process is eerily similar. Murex shellfish (there were several species in the Med that produced several variants on purple dye - the most expensive cloth was dyed twice, with two different species) were gathered up and put in a vat. Then they were smushed. While it is possible to extract the snail snot WITHOUT killing them (and it is still done that way in Mexico), for the deep purples (and probably blues) of Tyrian Purple, the little critters had to die. After smushing, they were left to rot; the bacteria breaking down the goo removed all the oxygen, just like the urine does in a traditional indigo vat. Then the fabric was dipped, and the fabric would come out green, and gradually change to purple. Just like indigo. The color could be adjusted by exposing the vat to sunlight, and also exposing the wet fabric to sunlight as it dried.

Obviously, this process reeks. One article I read, the author mentions that she went to a seminar about Tyrian Purple dye, and she could smell it the instant she walked in the building - from three floors away. Fabric curators also claim they can tell what was dyed this way very easily; even after a thousand years, the fabric still smells. The dye wasn't limited to fabric, either. The Byzantines used it to color vellum, which was then overwritten with real gold. Talk about conspicuous consumption.

Then there's one of the great dye mysteries of history: Tekhelet, the sacred dye of the Hebrew people. It was once used to color the fringes of prayer shawls, before the secret of the dye was lost; many Jews wear white fringes on their shawls to this day, in remembrance. Modern scholars, unable to resist a puzzle, have been working for years to figure out the lost secret. The first problem was the color itself: The Hebrews used one word to cover both blue and purple. The Talmud warns of counterfiet tekhelet, made from indigo, so it's very likely they really mean blue. The Talmud says the color is from a snail, and we land squarely back at the door of murex. But for many years, no one was able to produce blue dye from the purple/pink snail snot. Then in the 1980s, a scholar realized that with exposure to sunlight, the purple turns to a very pretty blue (that's it up there, being made). An organization was founded to produce the dye and continue the research, and in the computerized world of the 21st century, people have gone back to making a dye almost three thousand years old.

I find that very comforting.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Manuh manuh.

Sorry I haven't posted the Purple article yet... yesterday I discovered the many videos on YouTube for children, including piles of Muppet Show clips. I've been playing them, and the Goober and I sing and dance. Occasionally the husbeast stops in and dances too. Remember this one?

Ah yeah, good times.

Otherwise, I finished the blue wool I had, and am trying to nerve up to dye the silk I bought before I spin it, too.

And I'm gonna fix the Russian Prime and get it finished. I need to start the Christmas knitting. No more deadline knitting.

Oh. And I need some chocoalte.

Manuh manuh.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Moderation? Never heard of it.

At eight tonight, I sat down with some pre-dyed roving and some empty bobbins, and started spinning. I filled up one bobbin, decided I was still having fun, and started another.

It filled up too.

So then I thought, hell, might as well ply them. Then I noticed my shoulders were kinda stiff. And my ankles were sore. And... you know, I couldn't bend my fingers. Then I looked at the clock. Ten thirty.

Now I'm gonna go take some painkillers and eat some chocolate.

Spinning is REALLY COOL.

Purple coming up tomorrow. Brace for dead snails.


I have noticed, the last couple days, something interesting. With my modern house, and my internet connection, and my Jeep, I've somehow wound up repeating history. Somehow, with all the technology and social choices and the college education, I have wound up doing exactly what our female ancestors have done for tens of thousands of years: Stayed home, tended the kid, and spun, knit, and generally done fiber related crafts to bring in a few extra bucks. Put me in a palace in Minoan Crete, a herder's yurt on the central Asian steppes, or a little clay hut in an ancient Egyptian city, and I'd be doing the same thing. Fiber crats, food prep, and kid-tending.

This should probably horrify me, what with the women's liberation movement and the insistence I'm capable of doing anything and being anyone. But it doesn't. Seems to me, liberation means being free to do whatever I want. Even if that means knitting sweaters while watching my kid grow up. Hardly an original choice, but for me a satisfying one. The last few nights I've spun and knit (and read), and thought about all this, and my only real conclusion is, I'm damn glad I can do this for enjoyment, when I choose, how I choose, and don't have to rely on it to feed my child or keep us from freezing.

But for the most part, I think of all the women who've gone before, and what they would think of me, and my life - listening to internet radio while spinning - and what I would think of theirs - the details of life that never make the history books.

Then I hug the Goober, and knit some more.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I have this well-known pattern of behavior when I've been under the weather: As soon as I begin to feel better, I go wild, totally overdo, and get sick again. This time it's a sinus infection.

Fuck it.

Last night I finally sat down and picked up the stitches for sleeve one of the Russian Prime. It involves picking up the stitches 'in pattern', which means using both colors of yarn and essentially doing stranded color as you pick up the stitches. It's not hard, just a pain in the butt. Took about twenty minutes. Then I promptly screwed up the first round and have to go back today and pick it out. Hopefully there will be a photo of this, soon. The process used, with the pattern, is very cool, if I do say so myself.

Still spinning and giggling with glee. Turns out I spin left-handed. Who knew? (I knit kind of left-handed, I guess it shouldn't be that big a shock.) One of my big concerns was that spinning would bother my hand, but it seems to be very low-impact and I can go for hours already. Whee!!

Also researching purple. Which, it turns out, doesn't really exist. Yeah. You can puzzle over that for a while.

Look! It's Zoolander!

Yes, that's me. I don't normally look that silly. Well, okay, I do, but in a different way all my own. Geez. I look like a cardasian. No more sucking in my cheeks. Eek.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Just a bit overspun.

I was doing all right - I think - until the bobbin filled up and I got a wild hair and decided to Navajo/chain ply it. Which I've never done before in my life. And I'm doing it with an overspun single. (My thought on that idea was something like "I want to try this before I know too much and decide it's hard.") I seem to be getting the hang of it, but damnation are the first couple dozen yards ugly.

Haven't knit a stitch in two days. I've been giggling with glee over the spinning wheel. The Goober, being Grandchild of Gadget Man, wants to take the whole thing apart and figure out how it works. She stuck her finger in the drive band earlier today. Good times.

Someone asked me a few days ago about my swift, which is visible in the background of many of the photos I take here in my office. It's a Becka swift. I looooove it. Love love love. To use it, you drop the yarn skein over it. That's it. No messing around, no fixing it to a table, no nothing. Just use it. Of course, it takes up quite a bit of space because it doesn't fold up like umbrella swifts do, but that's fine. I'll sacrifice the space for ease of use, every time.

The second round of hibiscus yarn is coming out of the dye pot soon, probably tomorrow. There's an idea in the back of my head for a complex but potentially cool random dye method, but I need the hibiscus pot before I can try it. And I'm gonna start doing painted superwash wool top for sale, too. Now that I've found somewhere affordable to get it.

I'll probably re-open my Etsy shop sometime this week. Yay?

There was also a question in the comments about the light blue table in my office, the one behind the futon.

The origin of this table is shrouded in family history, but the bottom line is, I suspect my father-in-law swiped it from somewhere. He's a bit vague on the details. I do know it was originally a 'library table', standing about chest high, to put books on. When he, ah, aquired it, he sawed the legs off to coffee table height, and the husbeast's family used it as such for many, many years (at the time it was a sage green). When we got married, I was encouraged to go through the basement at my in-laws' for any furniture that struck my fancy, and I fell in love with the table and claimed it as my own. That was, uh, like 1992. I painted it light blue and we used it as a coffee table. At one point while living in Hawaii, we bought new furniture, and the blue coffee table wound up in my office as a knitting table. And there it has remained. I suspect this thing is mahogany under the twenty layers of paint; sure looks like it on the underside. It's got dry rot or something not good, and the glue has come out of the joints and the whole thing is wobbly - that's why it's in the corner like it is. (When I took the photo, I had to stop and straighten the legs first.)

For those complaining about all the cool stuff I'm leaving out of the color articles (like how I totally forgot to discuss blue food colorings in the last one), rest assured, I'm probably going to wind up going through the spectrum again, adding everything I forgot this time, or learned after writing. (Didja know the word 'gurantee' comes from the Spanish word for madder, because at the time it was the only colorfast dye for fabric?) Then there are going to be a couple OTHER articles, about color in general. Because I am reading WAY. TOO. MUCH. The husbeast asked me a question tonight about lights shining through filters, and I said, "Oh, that's subtractive color mixing, not additive like paint." and he stared at me and said "You know way too much about this stuff."


Sunday, February 17, 2008


Blue is a very popular color worldwide, and has been for centuries (the Crayola Crayon company did a recent poll on favorite colors; not only was blue number one, but of the top ten favorites, seven were shades of blue, and of the total fifty listed, sixteen were shades of blue). No one is sure exactly why, but psychologists and sociologists speculate that it may be related to the sky, which in ancient times was one of the only 'pure' colors in nature. I'm not sure I agree, but that's the speculation, anyway.

In the English langauge, the word blue traces back through Frankish and Germanic, to a proto-Indo-European word meaning 'light'. (As in light blue, not sunlight.) There are many color terms in other languages based on the same word - bhle-was - and not all of them mean blue. The word purple didn't exist in English at all until the 700s, so before that, the term blue usually meant what we today would call purple, also. (Something to keep in mind when we get to purple, next up.)

For much of human history, there was only one blue dye: Indigo. That's a block of it, there to the left, in it's half-processed form. Every continent has got some plant containing indigotin, the chemical that eventually becomes the blue pigment stuck to your denim jeans. Europe had woad, the Chinese had Dyer's Knotweed, the Maya had "azul Maya", the spanish term for the color (it bugs me that no one seems to know the Mayan name, when they're the ones who found it. Damned imperialists.) The Indian version of indigo was/is the most commercially viable because the plant produces the most indigotin. The name indigo is a bastardization of Greek, "From India". Even in the Classical era, Europe was importing it. Processing is complicated, involving a 'fermentation' after harvest, which is essentially putting it in water and leaving it to rot (much like linen production's early stages). After that, lye is added to the liquid, and the resulting gunk is formed into bricks and allowed to dry, producing something like the hunk in the photo. At that point it was transported/sold to wherever it needed to go, whereupon it was ground up, put into a huge vat of water and human urine, and allowed to sit until the oxygen was removed from the indigo and it became soluble in water. Then the fiber was dipped, and when removed from the dye pot, the indigo would re-oxidize and turn blue, much like an instant camera photo, only faster. (This must have seemed downright magical to the folks in the middle ages.) This process is one of the many reasons dye works were always located outside of towns, and downwind. It's very stinky. I've read that Elizabeth I of England passed a law that no one was allowed to manufacture indigo within five miles of her. It's good to be queen.

Unlike indigo, which is a fairly stable dye, blue paint was a bit trickier to produce. Especially a colorfast paint that didn't cost a fortune. The first synthetic paint was blue, produced by the ancient Egyptians at least as far back as 3000 BCE. They cooked up what was, essentially, blue glass in a kiln, with quartz sand, natron, copper, and other odds and ends, then ground the resulting glass and mixed it with a binder. Voila. Blue paint, known these days as Egyptian Blue - see photo at top, left. It was also used as a ceramic glaze, in which case it is called faience. The Chinese did something similar, from about 500 BCE onward. The color is from a blue glass, and is called Han Blue, or Han Purple (see above, about how blue and purple were all blue until the middle ages). Among other things, it was used to paint the terracotta warriors in the Qin tomb at Xi'an - photo at center left. The Mayan indigo was transformed into a synthetic paint with the addition of clays and became one of the most stable blue paints of the ancient world - photo, bottom left. It has been speculated that the bronze age was born while early chemists were trying to make blue glass - the colorant in all these paints is copper, and bronze contains copper and tin or arsenic. Not sure if it was the chicken or the egg, but either way, I bet the two processes were related.

In the middle ages, it's said that the primary colors were vermillion (red from mercury sulfide, cooked up by alchemists), gold leaf (yellow, made by pounding the hell out of gold coins), and ultramarine, a blue so expensive that the gold leaf was more affordable. All those medieval religious paintings with big swaths of rich blue, on Mary Magdalene's robes and the blue skies? A form of major conspicuous consumption by the Church (or whoever else was paying for the painting). The cost was so high, that when contracts were made between painter and patron, it was very often speicified which pigments to use, and often the patron was expected to procure the ultramarine himself, and then pass it along to the artist. It wasn't uncommon for the patron (or a minion of the patron) to stand over the artist while he was painting the blue bits, to make sure the ultramarine wasn't wasted. Ultramarine means, literally, 'over the sea', and the fact that it's imported is only part of the reason for the high cost. The other reason was an insane manufacturing process: Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan (the mines are in the middle of nowhere, even by Afghan standards, which means major transportation costs passed on, ultimately, to the patron) was ground to a powder. The powder was mixed with various resins and bees' wax, and kneaded off an on indefinitely (directions from the time say at least a week). Then you put the mess into a cloth bag and chucked the whole thing into a bowl of lye, and mooshed the gunk around with two sticks. Lazurite, the blue stone in lapis lazuli, would drift to the bottom of the bowl. Then the lye was allowed to evaporate over several weeks, the resulting crust was ground up, and mixed with binders into paint. Until a process was developed in the 1820s to make a synthetic version (which is chemically the same but cooked up in a blast furnace), the paint remained insanely expensive. A less expensive substitution was ground azurite, which is pretty much the blue version of malachite, and handled the same way.

Eventually indigo and ultramarine were synthesized, putting a lot of Indian farmers and Afghan miners out of work, and helping kick-start the synthetic dye industry, and most of industrial chemistry as we know it today. International Klein Blue is the first color developed for a specific artist, by a chemist, working as a team. It was 1958, and it kicked off a whole new approach to color that we're dealing with today, where designers and artists can request colors and have them tailored to exact specifications. All it takes is deep pockets. Ah, if only Titian were alive now. He'd wet his pants with joy.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Better than a stick in the eye.

It didn't jump off the flyer hooks and turn into a massive snarl, anyway. But as you can see, I'm still having trouble with the yarn feeding evenly onto the bobbin. (And in case you're wondering what the hell that is, it's the leftover Lopi from the first Steeked Jacket. I figure Lopi was originally intended to be used like pencil roving, so why not use it for practice?)

I fished the first of the two hibiscus-dyed skeins of yarn out of the dye pot today. Yes, it's been soaking for three days. Every morning I would put heat under it and simmer it for about an hour, both to set the color and to keep any ickies from breeding in the goo.

The photo was taken under full spectrum light, but I just can't capture the color. It's about halfway between a dark mauve and a grayed lavender. No idea what to call it. Probably "Hibiscus dyed superwash sock yarn, 440 yards". Right up there with Toccota and Fugue in D minor for naming creativity.

The other skein is now in the drink for a three day bath. After that, I'm not sure what I'll try. Cochineal, maybe.

Oh, and I found my futon.

It's like waking up.

And finding that it was the maid's year off.

My thyroid meds are kicking in with a vengeance, and for the first time in months (maybe years) I can think straight and feel like my brain is really 'on'. Last night I realized, you know what? My house is a fucking mess. Not just disorganized - I can handle disorganized, that's just the way life works - but dusty, and edging toward dirty.

Just in time for my in-laws to show up tomorrow, on an overnight stop between where they've been in Florida, and their home in Ohio. As always, they will be staying in my office, which doubles as a guest room when you fold out the futon. What does the office look like now? Brace yourselves.

Oh, and on the end of the futon you can't see? There are a few books that need shelved. You know. A few. I put my hand in the photo for scale.

I refuse to post pictures of the kitchen and bathrooms, but I'm amazed no one has died of typhoid yet. (Last year, the husbeast broke the toilet seat, repaired it with duct tape, and we've been using it that way ever since. IT HAS NOT BOTHERED ME UNTIL NOW.)

So. I'm gonna go find a shovel. Or a backhoe. Or maybe some gasoline and a pack of matches.

Oh, and Sekhmet is still at it.


I'm hoping to do a post on blue soon, like this weekend. Unless I'm crushed under a pile of unshelved books.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jump in, already.

I'm sure anyone who has read this blog for more than, oh, two days, has realized that when it comes to trying new things, I tend to read a whole lot on the subject first. Eventually I hit a point where I'm looking at the raw materials of the project (in this case, natural dye stuffs) and thinking "I can read about this for the rest of my life, or just try it already." This infomration overload point, for the natural dye project, hit at about two AM, yesterday. I'd finished the section of "Bright Earth" that was about dyes and the invention of modern chemistry, and my brain was melting, and I thought "I need to get some more chemistry books" and then I thought "You really need to get a grip, for crying out loud." Then I went to bed.

This morning, bright and early, I started stewing hibiscus flowers (dried) for dye:

I poured boiling water over them, then simmered for an hour, then I'm letting them sit for an hour. This is being mentioned so that later when I can't remember what I did, I can look here and see. This SHOULD produce some nice purple sock yarn. Yes, I will sell it. Natural dyes aren't as light-fast as synthetic dyes, but I'm doing all I can (mordants, heat, etc) to make it as colorfast as possible. Tomorrow, I may be dyeing with madder. Maybe. And I need to get some safflower. And try dyeing with spices. And...

My size-five circular needle I usually use for knitting sleeves is currently holding the last sleeve of "Innsvinget", which really plays hell with the idea of using it to knit on the Russian Prime. So I'm thinking of actually SEWING THE SECOND SLEEVE INTO INNSVINGET today. If you hear reports of plagues of locusts or rivers of blood in South Carolina, you know what happened.

...the Goober just ran up and took a big slug out of my drink, which she thought was water. It was ginger ale. I REALLY wish I had a photo of the face she made. But since I don't, here's a shot of the view from my chair, most mornings.

Is it possible to be loved to death? Ah well. What a way to go.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sekhmet, you're still a fucker.

When we adopted Sekhmet, she had been a stray for several months (we think). Due to that, she tends to associate food with security, which I suppose is understandable. About three months back, the Goober started chasing the cat for sport, and Sekhmet started hoovering up every scrap of food she could find. So I put the cat on a diet.

How does she cope, you ask?


Monday, February 11, 2008

Sekhmet, you fucker.

The other night I was walking past the Goober's play house, and Sekhmet leapt out at me. I screamed and spilled tea everywhere, and the cat ran off with "hahahahahaha" being said with every line of her body.

She's doing it regularly now.

That's not the flash making her eyes glow. They do that all the time. I think it comes from being demonically posessed.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A jumble of stuff.

Much like my office.

First off, some links. Turns out the ancient Maya used mica in the paint on one of their temples. That's the same stuff that gives the glittery effect in some modern nail polish. Very cool. Article here.

Someone with a very good knowledge of how the brain 'sees' color has produced some optical illusions. I am amazed. Link. More here. Really makes you think about how color is relative, at least as our brain sees it.

-... -

Next up, a book review. "World Textiles, a concise history" by Mary Schoeser.

This book... well, it's weird. I don't think the author knows doodly-squat about actually CREATING textiles, in terms of sitting down and doing her own spinning, knitting, or weaving. Technical information seems one step removed, if you get me. Things are defined almost entirely by structure. She also spends a lot of effort tracking gory details of things she's interested in (I assume) and blows off a lot of other, bigger issues. There is an inordinate amount of text spent tracking tapestry weavers in the 1500s, and almost nothing on prehistoric production, dyes, fibers, etc. It's kinda weird, really. Plus, on page 79, she dates the development of knitting 500 years earlier than my most optimistic guesses - to quote, "Plain multi-needle knitting had been worked in Syria since the third century." Uh huh. On the other hand, she found a pair of knitted gloves I've never seen before, that push the date of knitting in Spain back about 25 years to 1247 ish. (They are creditied to the "Archivio de Obras Restauradas". A Google search turns up nothing... at least nothing I can read. My Spanish is pretty remedial. Anyone else turns up any info, let me know?)

Bottom line, the book gets a great big 'eh' from me. The prose itself is pretty tedious to get through, I question the validity of a lot of her conclusions, and it's seriously slanted toward what people now consider art.

But on the other hand, it's got lots of pretty pictures. You can get it on line for ten bucks, and if you love looking at textiles, it might be worth it for the photos alone.

Next up, I'm reading "Bright Earth: art and the invention of color" by Phillip Ball. I'm sarting to worry about my brain overloading, and melting. I'm sure it'll be a pretty color as it runs out my ears.

-... -

What am I doing? Still trying to figure out how to spin. Some of you have asked questions, so I'll try to answer them all here... No, I have no clue what I'm doing. It's not a situation where I learned how to spin and then got a wheel. I've jumped in the deep end and just bought the damn thing. The other day when I spun up my hair... it's still on my head. I pushed the drive wheel backward and wound my hair back out, mostly while chanting "Ow damn fuck ow." The husbeast has, wisely, not commented.

Generally, my lessons tend to run like this: Set up wheel, spin for a while (still spinning rovings, to get the hang of treadling), wind up with a horrible snarl, and walk away for a cup of tea and some chocolate. The latest looks something like this:

Right, more chocolate.

Otherwise, the alum that I'm planning to use as a mordant got here, and the natural dyes also arrived. I'm trying to get motivated to wind out the balls and balls and balls of sock yarn I have, into skeins, and get dyeing. I'm using superwash-nylon blend sock yarn because it's really freaking durable (in terms of boiling it and smooshing it around) and since I don't knit socks, all the experiments will be up for sale. Hopefully someone will want them. I'm going to have to adjust prices according to what I dye the yarn with... cochineal is fucking expensive. So's saffron.

The indigo vat may wait until spring... I'm not sure. Still researching. For those of you giggling with glee at the thought of smelling up my entire house, I hate to disappoint you, but the unholy reek associated with indigo vats, comes from using urine as a reducing agent. And, at least for now, I won't be doing that. (I may get a wild hair over the summer and try doing a 'traditional' indigo vat, but I doubt it.) As a substitution, I may be using beer yeast.

As always, the insanity will be documented. You know, for insurance purposes. Ha.

Oh, and I pulled the Russian Prime out of retirement and got back to work. It needs sleeves. Which meant cutting a steek:

Now I need to get off my lazy ass and pick up the stitches. I bought myself an Addi Turbo in the hopes it would motivate me. So far, nope.

-... -

For the one or two of you still following along on the health news (and if you aren't, I don't blame you, I'm rather sick of all this shit myself), I'm feeling better. Which is probably obvious from the blog posts. Turns out, a lot of aches and pains I'm having (which I had worried were the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, to the point of being tested for it in 2004) were actually my thyroid problem. I assume it's compounded by my funky nervous system, but whatever. There are aches I've had for three or four years, disappearing. So... yay. (Still wanna kiss my new doctor on the lips, but they frown on girl-on-girl stuff in the military.)

-... -

One of the Goob's favorite things is to have you draw things on her magnetic drawing board, and she guesses what it is. While in Florida, the Goob was playing that with her grandma, and my mother-in-law's cat took exeption to his human paying too much attention to the kitten and not him.

Chester, you fucker.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Well, that explains it.

What Sekhmet really wants is her own horse. (Link takes you to a g-rated YouTube video.)

Thursday, February 07, 2008


If you have really long hair, it is best to avoid snagging it in the wool you are spinning. It will suck into the spinner head, twist around horrendously, and snag in the flyer hooks. All while your head is being sucked toward the wheel as you desperately try to quit treadling and go backward.

Thank you. That will be all.


Took me long enough.

There is a mind-bending pile of information on how the human race has produced green, down through history. Unlike most colors, green dyes and paints were usually of very different material, and there was little, if any, cross-use of pigments (unlike, say, madder being used as both a dye and a paint). So this is going to be a little more scattered than the other colors were.

The word green, in English, comes from a word in Old English meaning "to grow", which makes sense, considering the whole chlorophyll situation. (Incidentally, chlorophyll gets it's green from magnesium in the chemical structure. It's green on a molecular level, which is kind of cool. Oh, yes it is. Keep complaining and I'll start in on porphyrin rings and thylakoid membranes.)

Green has given painters fits pretty much from day one. Not only because it's hard to find a pigment that doesn't fade, darken, or generally turn to crap, but also because, duh, if you wanna paint nature, you're gonna need a bunch of green. To the left is the painting "The Arnolfini Marriage" by Jan VanEyk. It's one of the most famous paintings in history, from a conservation point of view; that green dress has remained green since 1434. VanEyk used vergigris, a form of copper (you know how copper turns blue-green when it corrodes? That stuff.) Depending on the exact chemical composition (the different gunk that was in the air when the copper corroded), it's not terribly light-fast and will often fade to brown. All those older landscape paintings? The ones that look so dismal? They probably weren't like that to start. They were likely painted green and have turned to brown over time. In the 1700s, they found a way to make verdigris a bit more light-fast as an oil paint (though not in other forms), and it was an extremely popular color for house paint, mostly interior. I've you've ever been to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, you've seen verdigris paint; that unholy bright green in the dining room was made from a historic recipe. I've been there, and let me tell you, that paint is ungodly bright. The tour guide was going on about how it looks better in candle light, but the real truth appears to be that they really DID like screaming bright colors in the early 1800s.

The other, most common form of green was "Scheele's Green". Invented in 1775, it's a crazy combination of copper, sulfur, and arsenic that is horrendously toxic. Scheele himself knew BEFORE THE START OF MANUFACTURE that it was poisonous, but went ahead with sales anyway, knowing he'd make a fortune off it. He did. Even though everyone knew it off-gassed arsenic like crazy, it wasn't made illegal for over a century, and only disappeared when synthetic greens were developed in the late 1800s. This is the stuff that is implicated in the death of Napoleon; no one's quite sure how the Little General died, but recent tests have shown he had really high arsenic levels in his body at time of death; it's also been proven he had wallpaper with Scheele's green on it, in his bedroom. (Homicide? Accident? More can be found here.) In addition to the toxicity, the green would darken when exposed to any kind of sulfur, either in paint, or in the atmosphere itself - and burning coal, which was THE power source of that era, puts LOTS of sulfur into the atmosphere.

Malachite is the last of the paint pigments, and another mineral, a form of corroded copper, like verdigris. Unlike verdigris, though, it's not very toxic and fairly stable. The drawbacks? The color's never the same twice, due to major variations in the stone. It doesn't do well in acidic environments or near acidic paints. And it has to be ground coarsely or the color gets lost. Back in the day, ground malachite was used by the ancient Egyptians, both as a paint and as a cosmetic. They wore it as eye shadow. Imagine getting stone grit in your eyes by accident when the brush slipped. Ow.

If painting was rough, dyeing was worse. Green was created through most of history as a two-part dye process; blue and yellow. Which of course takes twice as long, is about twice as expensive, and it's guranteed you'll never match the color from one batch to the next. The most popular combo in Europe was indigo (blue) and weld (yellow) to make green. In the years since, the weld has faded and left us with a whole bunch of blue fabrics - especially tapestries - that are considered very artistic (William Morris copied the scheme, thinking it was artful and subtle) but in fact were originally as literal and true-to-life as most other artwork, then and now.

The first true green dye, or one-pot dye as they're known, was Chinese Green, or Lo Kao. It's made from two species of buckthorn, using their bark. The bark is stewed for several days, then fabric is thrown into the stewpot and allowed to soak up the colorant. Then the fabric is hung up in the sun, and the light turns the muddy brown to green. Then the green is washed from the fabric and allowed to dry into a goo that was exported in huge amounts (from China) and sold for exorbitant amounts, mostly in Europe. Lo Kao didn't hit Europe until 1845, and by the end of the century, synthetic greens had replaced it for economic reasons. But for that fifty years, people paid through the nose for that green goo.

A quick flip through my organic dye books shows that even now, with the world at our fingertips (so to speak), green dye from traditional sources isn't an easy thing. There is nothing close to a true, bright green, and the olive greens produced by some plants requires an iron 'modifier' bath, which darkens the pigment and often damages the fibers.

There is a green food colorant. It's one of the early coal-tar colors, like most other food colors. Known as FD&C Green 4, Green S, or E142, it is illegal in Canada, the US, Japan, and parts of Europe. It's still available here as a dye, however. Chemically, it is a relative of tartrazine (see yellow discussion), and is implicated in hyperactivity, allergic reactions, and some forms of cancer. Yum yum.

Well, this is quite long enough. Even though I haven't begun to really get into the details. Definitely gonna have to return to this subject. But for now, I will leave you a photo of one of my favorite green things:

Celadon porcelain.

Well, hell.

Definitely gonna have to write more than one blog post about each color.

And then there are all the vegetable dyes to write about.

And all the cool historic stuff.

I think my brain's bleeding.

"Green" should be coming up soon, hopefully today. Sorry about the delay on the rest of the spectrum. I'm on it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Did I mention, eeeeeee?

There it is, in all its glory. (With a cat and a swift in the background.) It took me a couple hours to put it all together last night, and I mostly did it by myself, by hand (said hands now hurt today, whoops). But at the end I wound up asking the husbeast for help with a couple screws and some knot-tying. He used a power drill on the screws. Of course.

The Goob was fascinated by the entire process.

And Sekhmet helped by laying on the parts and packing materials. At one point she tried laying on the directions. That didn't last long.

The husbeast is quite fascinated by the combination of old and new technololgy represented on the wheel; centuries old design, with silicon fittings. I'm sure he'll find it even more interesting, once I start spinning and plying things together.

In dye news, I got big piles of indigo and madder and cochineal with the wheel (same order). I've got the yarn to dye it with. Now I'm waiting on the alum I ordered so I have a mordant. (Mordants make the dye stick better. Like using vinegar with food coloring to dye wool.) I need to start skeining wool now... Hmm. Maybe I'll put the husbeast to work.

Green, the blog post, is still in progress. Honest. I'm trying to track down a chemistry geek I know, to ask him about some of the minerals used. If I don't find him soon, I'll write something up anyway. Oh, and with all the natural dyes coming and (hopefully) going, I've realized there will likely be a lot more color posts. I'll try to index them all in a new category in the sidebar. The "Local Stuff" section may get chopped to make room. Ah, well.

And for all you Goober fans, here's a photo from vacation. She's in my in-laws' vehicle, watching the DVD player, with headphones on.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Just got here. I haven't even opened it yet, I'm still too busy dancing around it like a pagan at a full moon sabbat. Eeeeee!

And a sign of things to come:

The Goob went straight for the silk and wouldn't let me have it until I gave her the box and all the packing materials to play with. I'm raising a future fiberhead. I'm so proud.


Still not here.

According to the tracking number web site thingie, my spinning wheel is on a truck somewhere between Summerville (right up the road - I often use their post office) and my house, to be delivered today.

I've been listening for the truck. Just a few minutes ago I heard a truck and nearly ran out into the front yard in my jammies (yes, I'm spending the day in my jammies, and so is the Goober). Fortunately before I got the front door open, I realized it was the garbage truck.

:: twitch ::

Book review!

There are going to be several of those in the next week or two, 'cause I kinda lost my head with the tax return and bought a bunch. (We will not discuss the Amazon order. Nope.)

Anyway. "Latvian Dreams" by Joyce Williams.

Short review: I want to be Joyce Willams when I grow up. 'Nuff said.

Longer version: Williams got the idea to use twill sett patterns, that were designed for weaving, and knit them up. Total. Brilliance. Lots and lots and lots of excellent technique stuff in the front of the book, and lots and lots of extra charts of more twill setts in the back. Plus a bunch of full-on patterns in the middle, to get you into the groove. My favorite? The "Cornfields" sweater:

Kick. Ass.

The only drawback to many of these sweaters is, they're knit at teeny-tiny gauges, and I've vowed that the next time I knit something at nine stitches to the inch on size ones, I AM KEEPING IT. So I'm going to have to adapt some patterns... but my mother-in-law is getting SOMETHING out of this book for Christmas. (Knit at five stitches to the inch, or something reasonable like that.)

Bottom line, if you like two-color stranded knitting (yes, that sweater above has only two colors in it), or plan to try two-color stranded knitting, this is an excellent resource. A little pricey, but worth every penny. And it IS hardcover.

Now I'm gonna go look through it again and drool some more.

Cornfields sweater photo from here. She can be found on Ravelry, here.