Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Like so much else involving technology in the ancient world, the origins of silk cultivation are hotly debated and kind of foggy. The Chinese, in typical fashion, attribute the invention to a mythical figure - the wife of the Yellow Emperor, Lady Hsi Ling Shih - and have an exact date, 3000 BCE. Which sounds kind of wild, that it goes back that far, but I tend to believe the Chinese, at least in the sense that their mythic stories are very likely based on something that really happened. (And silk WAS invented, in China. It's just the date that people argue over. So they got that right.)

But wait. It gets better. In recent decades, archeologists have found all sorts of silk-related artifacts, from actual tools for sericulture to carved decorations portraying silk worms. And some of them have been dated as far back as 5000 BCE.

So. In a nutshell, sericulture has been going on a hell of a long time.

In addition to having an impressively ancient history, sericulture in China is notable for another reason; they managed to keep it secret for THOUSANDS of years. Even after they began exporting it, no one outside China knew exactly what it was. Pliny, the Roman historian, wrote in 70 BCE that silk was made from fur off leaves. (??!??) Sericulture didn't make it to Europe until the later crusades, around 1200 CE. Silkworms had made it as far as Byzantium, and during the crusades, Euros stole the idea.

The technology - and bugs - needed for silk production first traveled to Korea, in about 200BCE, taken by Chinese settlers who were colonizing the area. There was commercial silk cultivation done with smuggled worms (ha), in India by 300 BCE. After that it moved slowly westward - as each civilization learned the method, they attempted again and again to keep it secret, so as to control the market.

Silk, history's best-kept secret.

Anyway, here's how it works. (People have been gathering 'wild' silk for thousands of years in SE Asia, simply picking cocoons off trees and processing them much like the domestsic version.)

The domesticated silk worm, Bombyx mori, is dumb as a rock. It's been bred that way. Blind, unable to fly, all it does is eat mulberry leaves (the only food it will eat), make more silkworms, and spin about 900 yards of silk filament to make its cocoon. They're born pregnant, like tribbles. It will lay about five hundred eggs over a couple days, and then croak.

What a happy life.

One ounce of eggs will yield about thirty thousand silk worms. They will eat a ton - as in A TON - of mulberry leaves, and eventually yield about twelve pounds of silk. (Statistic from here.) I read somewhere, while researching this, that an entire shed of munching silk worms sounds like a heavy rain hitting a roof. If I wanted to do another rant on environment and the intelligent use of resources, this would be a fine time. It's as bad as chocolate. (No, I'm not giving up chocolate, EITHER.)

The silk worms that have not been allowed to hatch are dumped, in cocoon form, in hot water. (To get technical, any temp over about 180-190 F will destroy the luster of the silk.) Then the end of the cocoon filament is found, using a little thing much like a tooth brush, and it is spun straight from the pot of water to a silk reel. Four to eight cocoon filaments are reeled together, to form a thread (illustration of this, from ancient Chinese woodblock print, at left). There is still goo left on the filament (known as gum), and it helps the filaments stick together and stay strong enough for processing. In China, from there, the filaments are either twisted together to make something similar to yarn, or simply wound up as is, for use in weaving (that's known as thrown silk - don't know why). Once woven, the fabric is de-gummed, removing the last of the goo.

In Japan, the hatched cocoons are washed and stretched over a U-shaped form, and allowed to dry. This is where silk 'hankies' and 'caps' come from, used for spinning here in the west. But the Japanese have a different way of processing it into thread; low-tech, high quality, and moderately insane.

They do it entirely by hand. It is known as 'drawing' silk, and they simply twist it between their fingers, using a bit of spit to help it stick together (spit has enzymes that make the protein fibers sticky). From there it drops into a small bowl, and later, after the woman's hands have fallen off, someone winds it onto a bobbin. The only tools are the bowl and a post fastened to the floor to wrap the silk around.

Totally nuts.

This is one of the oldest and most spectacular of the silks found in China; it dates to the Warring States period, from about 500 to 200 BCE. Interestingly, it is dyed with cinnabar, aka mercury sulfide. (Remember in my Red post, where I wondered if people used cinnabar for dye? Apparently they do.) You can see by this fragment that even then silk production was quite complex, and it's easy to believe there was at least a couple hundred years for development before this piece was produced.

By 1000 CE, sericulture had traveled to Moorish Spain, and from there edged up into Europe. (The piece below is from Andalusia, around 1000 CE.)

Silk production has doubled in the last thirty years, even with all sorts of cheap synthetics hitting the market. Since the 1970s, China has, again, dominated the world production of silk.

As they should.

Who the hell comes up with this stuff?!

I've lost it.

Just spent thirty dollars on some dye to try and make glow-in-the-dark yarn. WHAT IN HELL DO I INTEND TO KNIT THAT GLOWS IN THE DARK??!!??


I had several questions about it. It IS the cabled pattern from "No Sheep for You", but I'm altering it. (As usual.) I'm going to use the cable patterns, but it's for a guy, so I'm using the same saddle-shoulder shaping as I used on the Steeked Jacket and Husbeast Gansey. I'm using Bendigo Woolen Mills (from Australia) eight-ply, on size eight needles. (Is there a law about knitting a pattern from a book about not using wool, with wool?) Mostly I didn't want to work with size three needles, and cotton yarn eats my fingers, and my hands are bothering me enough already.

What I'll probably do for the rest of the year is have one Christmas present and one Zen project on the needles, so I can flip back and forth as I get frustrated. Looking back at my knitting past, I've realized that's the time I'm most productive, when I've got two vastly different projects going and switch back and forth. (Remember the Blue Shimmer and the doily on 0000 needles at the same time? I still can't believe I pulled that off.)

While I was digging through packs of graph paper last night, I found my pattern for the blue and purple mittins. I actually did make up the color pattern myself, so if I get my head together, I'll post it over at Samurai Patterns sometime this coming week.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A day of sloth and, well, sloth.


I'm doing my usual seasonal-change two week migraine. Which means lots of migraine meds, which means wandering around in a fog. That might be kind of fun if there weren't a two year old in the house. A two year old who likes to take things apart and must be watched every minute.

I was curled up in the recliner today, feeling crappy, and the Goober came over to cheer me up. She decided what I needed was a serenade, and proceeded to sing "Twinkle Twinkle" in a pitch so high only dogs could hear it. It went straight through my head like an ice pick, but I let her finish and said thank you. The hug after that really DID make me feel better.

Then, my computer shit the bed. I've got two computers I use regularly, a laptop I traipse around with and a desktop with two hard drives in it that I use mostly for archiving. (We're on a network so all the computers in the house access my desktop for photos and stuff. We're a geek house. We knew that.) In the interest of archiving, I also was getting my e-mail on that computer. Well. When I went to check my e-mail, I got some message about how the computer had recovered from a 'Fatal Error' (I do so love programming terminology, so cheerful) and had re-set itself. Maybe it recovered from the Fatal Error, but the e-mail doesn't work now, so I suspect instead of recovery, it's more like in ICU, hanging on by a thread.

Anyway. Bottom line, if you've tried to e-mail me in the last, oh, 48 hours, please re-send it, because I'm not sure what got lost.

When I'm kinda functional, I've been spinning and dyeing. I've got almost a full bobbin of the RFB, and am hoping to have some plied by the end of the week so I can see how cool it is. The husbeast came into my office and we had a conversation something like this:

HIM: The Purple Trainwreck looks good.
ME: Huh?
HIM: The Purple Trainwreck. Looks good.
ME: That's not Purple Trainwreck. That's RFB. Purple Trainwreck is in the closet.
ME: Really fucking blue.
HIM: But there's purple in it.
ME: It's mostly blue.
HIM: You scare me.
ME: Back at you, babe.

This is what I get for marrying a guy who insists there are only eight colors in the world, the ones that come in a box of jumbo Crayola crayons.

Otherwise, I'm re-drawing all the charts for Morrigan, partly so they're in symbols I understand and partly because I'll understand the structure better once I've drawn them out. There are cables on every row. No wonder they named it Morrigan. The gauge swatch is chugging along. Whee.

And the Goob has been playing with my camera again.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Zen is dead.

It shrank almost instantly and is now too small for the Goober to wear. It's in the trash. I'm telling myself it was a learning project and I learned so it was a success, but I'm too pissed off to believe myself.

I think I just trashed a batch of wool, too.

Some break.

The worst thing about working from home, I've found, is that you're always at work. Yesterday I vowed to take a day off and do nothing but sloth and gluttony all day. I did all right on the gluttony (lots of chocolate and French bread and cheese), but I blew it on the sloth. Not only did I knit most of the day (that's all right, it was another zen project), but I found myself dyeing wool and spinning at eleven last night, wondering what in hell happened.

So, anyway, here's the day that wasn't a break, in photos.

The Goob and I spent most of the day on the back porch. We put water in the one side of her sand table, and she had a wonderful time making an unholy mess of everything.

Not a good photo, but you get the idea. At one point she came over to mooch chocolate off me, and she had big clumps of sand hanging from her eyelashes and a big splotch of it on her nose. But would she hold still for a photo?

I took the stinky wool out on the porch with me to air out, and dropped one hunk on the ground. Why is it always the little shit that makes me crazy? So I've spent today picking dead leaves and seeds and dead bugs out of the wool. I guess I'll be keeping this hunk and spinning it myself.

Which is okay, because I think I need more blue wool, to spin enough yarn to knit a sweater for me. (Another zen project. I'm hooked.)

I'm calling this color scheme "RFB" which is short for "Really Fucking Blue".

I also made an attempt at purple trainwreck on wool top:

Looks an awful lot like a grape wool casserole.

And for those waiting for a photo of the Goob in the Zen Sweater, here you go:

I think this shot gives a proper idea of scale. As soon as I hit 'send', here, I'm going to go fish it out of the washing machine, measure it, and probably put it in for another felting cycle.

And I've got another half pound of wool soaking and waiting for dye. Bah. Maybe I'll take the day off tomorrow.

Friday, April 25, 2008


The most unholy reek.

I opened up my two pound bag of wool today, with the idea of splitting it up into four-ounce hunks to dye and sell. As soon as I opened the bag, this... this... SMELL hit me. I knew that smell. It took me a minute to place it, but it clicked finally. Springtime in Ohio. When the Amish and Mennonite (and many other) farmers spread manure on their fields.


I'm hoping the dye process will remove the worst of the reek. I hope I hope I hope. Oh, and once split up, the wool wouldn't fit back in the bag.

Thank you to all who have let me know about the sheep festival at Middleton Place this weekend. We were thinking about going, but the idea of paying thirty dollars for admission is making me pretty cranky, so it's unlikely I'll go. But thank you all for the notice. Maybe next year.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'm starting to scare myself.

That is two pounds of wool top, ready for dye and spinning. I put my foot in there for scale (and be aware that wool is PACKED TIGHT). After it arrived, I sort of sat, staring at it on the floor, thinking "It's just possible you're going overboard with this." Wouldn't be the first time.

The Zen Sweater is awaiting bindoff, armpit grafting, and a light felting (probably followed with some scissor work).

It hasn't gotten done yet because I'm still fooling around with the Skinny Scarf. I'm WAY too amused by watching the colors go past and seeing what the next weird combination will be. I'm also plying the last of the Reactor Coolant and gearing up for a go at the ugly green roving that may wind up being called "Frog in a Blender". For those wondering about the pattern of the Skinny Scarf, there really isn't one. It's thirty stitches in K1, P1 rib on size eight/five mm needles. With all that unholy color going on I didn't see any reason to make it complicated.

Since everyone enjoyed the bast fiber post, I've been poking around on the 'net for information on my next great opus. It was gonna be sericulture, but I keep returning to how technology has affected (effected? oh, bugger it) what we wear over the last five thousand years, and how we wear it. So who knows? Maybe it'll be both.

And the Goober says CHEESE! Every time I get out the camera, she does this. Once I was taking photos while she was supposed to be napping, and when I turned on the camera and it dinged, she yelled "CHEESE!" from the nursery - behind a closed door. Dunno what's up with the weird face.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vogue Knitting Spring/Summer 2008

Welcome back to another round of 'is this supposed to be high fashion?' starring your Vogue Knitting editorial team, Zoolander, and some yarn. As always, anything in quotes is from the magazine, all other text is mine, and I refer to the patterns by number, not page. I've tried to summon a good rage for the entertainment of my Beloved Readers, but all I can gather up is disgust.

There are a couple good articles in this issue, which is why I'm not kicking myself harder for paying SEVEN FUCKING DOLLARS for this thing. Meg Swansen discusses Latvian mittens, their social and economic niche (haha, I typed niche - enough sinus meds for me!) and basics of how to knit them. She includes a basic pattern that's as useful - or moreso - than anything else in the magazine. There's more ass-kissing of Nicky Epstein in the 'signature style' article, showing details of how to make the first pattern which should really be included in the instructions and not called an article. (I really like Nicky Epstein's work, but come on, can we profile SOMEONE else?) Excellent article by Lily Chin, again, this time on waist shaping and making it work for you. An article on women who knit their own wedding dresses, which seems to be needless torture on a stressful day, but to each their own. Shirley Paden has an article on how to design and work with lace patterns, which is probably worth the cost of the magazine.

1. Bag knit with beaded silk, with crocheted accents. Looks like something straight out of the Victorian era. This is cutting edge high fashion?

First section, "EcoLogic". "Enviro-friendly fibers are easy on the earth and look cool in the heat." Yeah. They are. But most of these aren't enviro-friendly.

2. Cover sweater, a short-sleeved lace cardi-thingie. Nice, if casual. Closed with wooden buttons chopped out of a dead tree. Happy Earth Day!

3. Pullover knit from bamboo tape - mucho chemical processing there. Elbow-length sleeves, cable down the center front to just above the belly-button, after which it hangs open to that just-below-the-hips length that makes most of us look like we've got butts the size of Alaska. But it comes in plus sizes. You know, because plus sizes enjoy having their belly hang out and their butt look bigger as much as the rest of us.

4. Short-sleeved pullover, much like a tee shirt. It's got directional cables for shaping, but they seem to add bulk to the waist instead of making it look better. Also knit in bamboo, with dead-tree buttons. VERY earth-friendly.

5. Tank knit in more happy-planet bamboo yarn, in stranded color. Because TWO layers of yarn are SOOOoo cool and light for summer. And the horizontal stripes! So flattering! Actually, the shaping on this is kind of cool, and probably flattering if it were knit in a solid color. As it is, the pattern placement makes it look like a kangaroo pouch.

6. "Bark colored" sleeveless vest knit with soy silk (hug a soybean today!) Again with the big-butt length, the gut-exposing opening, and, didn't I see these at the last Grateful Dead concert? VERY avant-garde.

7. Bag knit with what looks like kite string. With the way the handles are sewn on, it will stretch all to hell out of shape if you put something heavier than a cell phone in it. THE HANDLES ARE LEATHER! AAAAH! SAVE THE COWS! MOOO! MOOO!

8. Who in FUCK shapes a dress by bunching fabric at the waist??

9. Pullover tee in HORIZONTAL STRIPES of pea green and brown. Soy and bamboo yarns used. So not flattering. So not environmentally friendly. But it comes in plus sizes!

10. Kind of cool shrug/cardi thing. Nice for sitting around in air-conditioning on full blast, I bet. Flattering. Not sure about those buttons on the boobs, but that could be worked around. And knit with corn fiber! A double whammy on the environment! I wonder if Monsanto sponsored this one. Looks like just their thing. (Didja know crop circles are really aliens protesting Monsanto? Yup, they're disgusted too.)

11. This one's misleading. Looks nice on the model, doesn't it? Neat idea, with the asymmetric cables. But a closer look reveals that there is NO shoulder or neck shaping. I don't know how flattering it would be when you actually, say, MOVED AROUND while wearing it. And I KNOW that neck line would make you feel like you were being choked. Still, if you wanted, you could alter the pattern to make it work. Sure isn't worth the seven bucks to re-write the pattern, though. And it's knit with bamboo. Har.

Next section, designer discussion of Rebecca Taylor, who is knitter to the stars. Lots of celebrity name dropping. Apparently her designs have "Grown-up Girl Power". I'm rolling my eyes so much over that one, I'm afraid they'll get stuck under my eyelids.

12. Knitted dress, made with Baby Cashmerino - so cool and light for summer. And all that fluff makes the butt look so SLIM. Sorry, it looks like seventh grade home-ec class, or a first attempt at design that came out just a little wrong in all directions.

Next section, "Floral Fixation". A floral theme for spring. Wow. That's original and cutting edge.

13. Little tank top knit with soy yarn. Lace pattern at the bottom to prevent curling, cabled shoulder straps. Cute, but the stylist blows it. I don't know whose dumbass idea it was to put it on over a peter-pan blouse. With the styling it looks totally fucking stupid. Not sure about that pea green color, either. And what's with the HAIR?

14. HOLY FUCK KAFFE FASSETT DESIGNED SOMETHING WITH SHAPING IN IT!!!! CODE RED, CODE RED, WOOT WOOT WOOT! ALERT THE MEDIA!!! Ahem. Not sure about the, shall we say, strong horizontal striping effect, but it does come in plus sizes and I do like the pattern. Fifty bucks says he designed the actual color pattern and had an assistant do the shaped design.

15. They're calling this a tunic. It's that Big Butt Length. In a color that's almost impossible to wear without looking like you've been dead a week.

16. Very simple boat-neck, sleevless tank sort of thing. Ribbing around the waist so you look like you HAVE a waist, a contrasting colored ribbon around the top to hold the shoulders in. Clever, simple design, in plus sizes.

17. Yet another deceptive photo. Looks kinda cool, doesn't it? Neutral colored cardi with a bright, floral border. Yup. Nice idea. Shame about the lazy pattern-writing. And lazy knitting. See how the bottom front swings out? That's because the stitches along the sideways-knit border were picked up wrong and essentially there's too much border for the fabric of the jacket, so it oozes sideways and makes the edge droop. And the edge itself? There's no facing or hem. I don't have any idea how they kept that edge from curling up like a shrimp in a hot skillet, but I'm betting it involved pins, glue, starch, or all of the above. From the photo, it looks like the upper front corners are trying to curl and someone pinned them down and hung the collar over top to hide the evidence. If there's one thing I despise, it's lazy knitting in high-cost magazines. Oh. But it comes in plus sizes.

18. Run-of-the-mill lace pullover tank with ribbed waist. Knit in some non-color they probably call taupe. The lace is wrong-side out; they're making it sound like some cool design feature, but I bet some dumbass assistant sewed it together wrong and they didn't have time to fix it. Very Vogue. Especially how it looks inside-out; I hear that's hot on the runways this season.

Next section is on knitting for weddings, called, har, The White Way. "Say I do in resplendent knits fit for a fairy-tale wedding." Because, you know, you don't have enough to do in the months leading up to a formal wedding, WHY NOT KNIT YOUR OWN WEDDING DRESS??

19. Lace net shrug. Knit with some clever shaping, neat cuffs, and workable edging. Not sure I'd wear this for a formal occasion, though, even if it is knit with silk. And that white? Makes me think of fish net. Sorry. The pattern is written for only one size. Lazy again. Really lazy. Fuckers.

20. Lace cardi. Nice, but this thing is straight out of the Edwardian era and I fail to see the Vogueness of it. (But then I fail to see the Vogueness of 90% of this stuff, so what do I know?) There's some very clever structural engineering going on with the peplum and cuffs, and I bet with some ribbon threaded through some of those eyelets, it would look REALLY cool. Unfortunately this sonofabitching pattern only comes in ONE SIZE - a 34 inch/86cm bust. Assholes. I think the part that pisses me off most is someone got PAID for this.

21. Lace dress. I can't decide if this is an atrocity or an insult. Maybe it's both. Among other serious problems, there is no straight shot of the front of the damn dress. The one front shot they have, the model is holding a dorky bundle of daffodils at a weird level that completely obscures any bust shaping - if there is any. But from what I can see of the neckline, I would say there's something wrong, structurally. The fabric is bagged up in the front of the neck, and pulled down low in the back, which says 'no neck shaping' to me. There's a zipper in the back. Because, you know, putting a zipper in knit lace is SO easy.

22. A lace trench-coat/peignor/half-assed coat sort of thing. It's lace, with big holes in it, so I don't think it's for warmth... But it comes in plus sizes!

23. Lace skirt. We've discussed THAT topic before. But may I add, I think it's pretty stupid to knit a floor-length skirt with mercerized cotton, if for no other reason than because it'll be impossible to hold up. Cotton is heavy. This pattern uses almost TWO POUNDS of yarn. Come on. Who is going to look good in that? If they can keep it on?

24. Ribbed camisole knit in what looks like more kite string. Upon investigating, I find out it's WORSE than kite string - Lion Brand Cotton Ease. Not the most flattering thing I've ever seen. And it has crochet accents. Is this Vogue Crochet??!!??

Urban Outfitters is our next section. "Must be able to communicate dazzlinglly in basic black and white." If this is dazzling, my ass is a paint sprayer. And... and... ZOOLANDER!!! SNAP!

25. I'd consider knitting this in a solid color and wearing it as a casual dress. If it came in my size. Fuckers. As it is... well... I used to work at a newspaper and we had stuff that looked just like the front of that, when the press was messed up and the ink wasn't feeding right.

26. Lazy-ass pattern writing at its worst. Knit in two parts, with horizontal stripes and no neck or shoulder shaping. Hangs to that lovely Big Butt Length (I'm making that an official term). And it comes in plus sizes, so we can ALL look like we have big butts! How Democratic!

27. Yet another half-assed Chanel Jacket knockoff, this one knit with what looks like dryer lint. With a soupscon of dust bunnies.

Next section is called "Shore Leave". "Meditations on a Mediterranean idyll, our sailor blues radiate a femininity that has nothing to do with the regimented world." In my sinus-addled state, the only reply I can come up with to that is, 'my ass'.

28. Casual pullover with asymmetric lace pattern. Eh. Nice enough. Don't we all have ten of these in the closet already? Is this cutting edge?

29. Blue lace tee. Clever shaping and directional knitting, to make it more flattering, nice cut, reasonable length. Very nice. Even comes in multiple sizes.

30. Lace mesh pullover. Nothing terribly original, but not bad. Comes in plus sizes. It's at Big Butt Length, though it'd be easy enough to shorten.

31. This one's the pick of the issue, I think. Nice, fitted style, classic, vertical line to the texture pattern. Not avant-garde, but I'm good with that. You could wear it forever. I'd consider knitting it with linen; it would never wear out and you could literally leave it to your grandchildren.

32. Tank with criss-cross straps. Neat styling, and it's summery. If you have no boobs or gut, go for it.

33. Short-sleeved, cross-wrapped... thing. Again, if you've got no boobs, and no gut, and not much of anything else, go for it. I think these last two are the off-the-wall-but-cool patterns of the issue. Average women aren't gonna wear them, but they're kinda cool.

I still can't believe they're charging seven bucks for this thing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It's baaaaaaaack.

The Etsy shop lives again. (Link in the sidebar, or click here.) I really regret shutting down the shop last fall, but truly, there was a while there when getting through the day was about all I could do. So. Anyway. I listed the new stuff and re-listed the old stuff, and, well, I don't wanna be a yarn pimp or anything, but...

Somebody buy this yarn, before I'm buried. Please.

Okay, enough of the gross commercialism, some comments on the comments:

Netter mentioned a theory that one reason the pollen count near her is through the roof is because landscaping people are planting more male trees, so as to have less squishy fruit to deal with. That may be the problem up by you, but down here, we don't have that many landscaping plants that are gendered (there's a technical term for it, but damn if I remember), and I doubt most people would have the wit to do it, even if there were. In this area, I blame the problem on all the decorative grasses people use to landscape, as well as coniferous trees, and cattails in the swamps. All those species are known to produce massive amounts of pollen (hell, native Americans used to make bread out of cattail pollen - just scrape it off the stalk and away you go). According to a doctor I used to have, something about coniferous trees makes the pollen unable to trigger an allergy. That may be, but I'm of the opinion just huffing the dust in the air can cause major problems, all supposed allergies aside.

Back on Friday, with my bast fiber post, Trish asked if she could, then, make yarn out of celery fiber. I would say, technically yes. But it'd be an unholy mess, I don't know if the fiber would stay flexible, and I bet it would smell like rotten celery no matter what you did.

Roxie wanted to know about getting salad dressing out of fabric. My only suggestion is dishwashing detergent. Should break the oils down. And it's fairly safe on fabric - I wash wool with it all the time. Good luck.

Since y'all had such a good time with the bast fibers post, would you be interested in more posts about fibers through history? (And I really need to list all those color posts on the sidebar, don't I?)

Off to knit. Or spin. Or wrestle the cat.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Killer snot!!

It's that time of year again. When the fucking plants fuck each other with their fucking flowers and their fucking pollen and I've got a head full of snot and a toddler with a head full of snot and plant freak or not I wish all these fucking flowers would just fucking die already before I do. Fuckers.


Knitting. Right. Knitting.

Since it hurts to go outside and have sunlight hit my eyes, I spent the weekend huddled in the house, knitting. The Zen Sweater is almost done; I hope to finish it today. Then I'll chuck it in the washer and felt it a little, and the Goob can wear it as a sweatshirt for the next year or two. (Or ten minutes, the way she's been growing lately.) When I knit this sweater, it was to use the yarn and see how good my spinning was. I didn't make a gauge swatch or anything. I figured if it came out huge, I'd keep it, and if it came out small, I'd give it to the Goober. So, Goober it is.

I began a skinny scarf with the Reactor Coolant, and am pleased to report my spinning is getting more even and I think I'll be willing to sell my handspun, now.

Unfortunately, the color reminds me a lot of what I'm blowing out of my nose lately, so I didn't work on it much. But the spinning's pretty even. I'll be selling the second half of the batch of roving, after I spin it. (And that's about half done, 'cause when I wasn't knitting this weekend, I was spinning.)

So, I started a gauge swatch for my father-in-law's Christmas sweater.

...had a little trouble finding the end. Arg. This is Bendigo Woolen Mills 8-ply, in the color "Midnight Tweed". If I had easier access to this yarn (it's Australian), I'd knit with nothing else. You Aussies, I don't know why you buy anything else. This stuff is wonderful. It's gonna make my FIL a kickass sweater. (I'll be using the Morrigan cable patterns and the Steeked Jacket saddle-shoulder decreasing method. In the round. Only maniacs knit cables flat.)

The Goober has been as out of it as I have; I think the poor kid has inherited her mum's sinuses.

In between zoned-out phases, she's been acting like a two-year-old. The other night I heard the water go on in the bathroom. I was in my office, and yelled to the husbeast "Is that you in there?" and from the living room, the husbeast shouted back "Am I in whe- oh SHIT!." We both ran to the bathroom, and there the Goober was, standing on her stool in front of the sink, water running. Brushing her teeth. So we let her off easy.

As for the environmental issue, the planet may care more than I thought about my opinion. Lighting hit the house on Saturday night. We're still not sure exactly what happened and assume the lightning rod system divered the worst of it; the computers are all right, no electronics were fried, no visible damage. But we saw the flash and heard the pop at exactly the same time (when it's very close, it sounds more like a giant bubble popping than thunder) which means it was within about four hundred feet of us. The husbeast was in the bedroom and swears he heard the ZZZT! So, uh. Nice planet. I promise I'll never knit acrylic again.

The Etsy shop AND the Vogue Knitting review are coming soon. Honest. Soon as I can breathe.

Fucking flowers.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bast fibers.

Before we start, a more general discussion of plant fibers can be found in my epic article at Knitty. This is deliberately about the weird stuff. So no leaving "that's weird" comments, I already know that. Of course it's weird. We live for weird around here.

I strongly suspect that the reason a lot of these... odd... fibers were developed/used, is because weaving is a direct offshoot of basket making, and many of these same fibers were probably VERY useful in basketry and someone probably figured, why not weave them, then?

Okeydokey. Quick botany/biology lesson before we go further. Bast fibers are made from the vascular tissues of assorted plants. Think circulatory system. Remember the xylem and phloem in bio class in ninth grade? Those. Check it out:

That's a cross-section of plant stem. (I am so not getting into dicots and monocots and primary and secondary growth and angiosperms. It's 'plant' from here on out. You want gory details, let me know. I will subject you to taxonomy and microbiology and chemistry and you will beg for mercy.) See the solid green bits in a ring, near the outer edge? Those are the phloem. They run the entire length of the stem/branch/root/leaf. You know those ungodly strings in celery? Bingo. Bast fibers.

Linen is the most common bast fiber these days, and the way it is processed is, generally, the way they're all dealt with; the plant is harvested, the stems half-broken (bent to break the outer 'husk' but not pulling the pieces apart). Then they're left to rot, with some kind of moisture, usually running water but sometimes morning dew gets the job done. Once the outer bits of stem are rotted off, the long fibers are collected, cleaned, and spun. You can do this with a kajillion other plants besides flax. Hemp and ramie are two more that are used commercially and most people have heard of. But there are as many others as there are people to process them.

Another of the more common bast fibers in history - though not in commercial production - is nettles. Yes, the stinging weeds. Same deal as linen, above. Let the plant rot, take out the fibers, spin and weave. I could only find one photo of a nettle shirt, and it's from Tibet:

Looks a lot like linen, because it IS a lot like linen, both in processing and in a molecular sense. Nettle shirts were also very popular in Northern Europe, and many shirts labeled as linen in museums are probably nettle. I assume they used nettle instead of linen because, hey, why waste valuable farmland growing something when you can get it from weeds?

Another family of plants that are used widely are the agaves. Yucca, agave, sisal, jute. All related, all used the same way. These fibers are more coarse than those previously mentioned:

These days they're mostly used for floor mats, bags for shipping produce, and shoes. But back in the day they were occasionally used for fabric. I'm unable to find any photos, but I know the Native Americans used Yucca fibers. And Agave fibers are becoming a popular textile for washcloths in high-end bath stores:

If you've ever heard of Azores Lace, they are doilies, knit (yay, knitting!) with fiber from some member of the Agave family:

Trees were also harvested for their fibers, which grew under the bark. The Haida of the Pacific NW and the ancient Japanese were known to use them. This kimono is woven from Japanese elm fiber:

And this one was woven from banana, though the fibers were from the leaves, not the trunk:

Banana fiber was popular all through SE Asia, and is still used, though not commercially. Or at least, not much.

I could go on for days. But basically, ancient people used anything they could get their hands on to weave fabric with, until the trade routes opened up and specific, specialized fibers could be traded across continents. Africans made textiles from raffia, the stripped bark of a palm tree. The Hawaiians used several members of the hibiscus family. The reason we're down to only four or five commonly used bast fibers is because they're the most useful; why kill trees for pitifully short fibers that are hard to process, when you can get nice, long, easily processed fibers from a plant grown specifically for the purpose? It's kind of sad, though, there are a lot of interesting textiles that aren't being made any more, because they're inconvenient.

And while we're discussing freaky fibers, here's the bonus round:

A fisherman's work glove, knit with, get this, the spun-together beards from shellfish. The fibery little bit on the bottom of oysters and clams, that hold them to the rocks? That part. A kajillion of them, gathered and spun and knit. Supposedly, they had to be kept in a bucket of salt water when not in use, to stay flexible. And they were so tough that men left them to their sons and grandsons.

We really will knit anything, won't we?

General ramblings.

I'm going to be doing a couple posts today, on different subjects. I wanna keep them separate, because then I can link them in the sidebar easily. One will be the Vogue Knitting review, probably. If not today, then tomorrow. The other is some information about bast fibers, because I had a couple requests after yesterday's stuff and since it involves plants, I find the subject interesting.

As for the environmental rant yesterday, I didn't mean to come across as saying we should all say 'fuck it' and knit with anything and pollute all we want. Nor did I mean to come across as some kind of purist who lives on nuts and berries in the woods. It was due in part to my education with plants, and in part just because I'm frustrated by any type of situation where people say/think one thing and do another. (I know, that makes us human. Cut me some slack. I've got a sinus infection and quite dislike being human at the moment.)

I do all I can for sensible consumption, re-use, sustainability, and all that. I drive as little as possible, knit with fibers I think are earth-friendly (and bio-degradable), use dyes and mordants that are safe and break down into even more safe chemicals. It's stupid not to; the safe stuff is as affordable and easy to find, often moreso. I just don't think that all these 'green' fads are doing much, if anything, to save the environment. When governments are filling in lakes or draining them, radically altering coast lines, and encouraging the blasting of chemicals into the atmosphere, whether or not I use plastic grocery bags really doesn't mean jack shit. I hate to be a downer, but there it is.

Take a look at this:

That's the Aral Sea in Russia in 1973. Then people started diverting rivers for cropland, for power, for larger and larger cities and every damn thing. And now it looks like this:

Actually, that photo was taken in '04, so I'm sure it looks even worse now. But you get the idea. With crap like that going on, I seriously doubt the planet gives a shit what yarn I knit with.

This sort of thing isn't new, either. We've been filling in the Persian Gulf for twelve thousand years; all that irrigation has washed most of the topsoil down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers into the Gulf. The coastline has changed hugely. The island of Java has been terraformed so extensively by humans, for so long (mostly terraces on the mountains, for farming), that geologists aren't quite sure what the original form was.

And then there are things like this:

Dubai's building resorts in the shape of date palms with dredged soil in the Gulf. Each 'tree' is expected to house HALF A MILLION people. There are at least two of them that I know of. (They're visible on Google Earth.) At least in the stone age we altered the environment so we could EAT, not so we could have nice fancy resorts with lots of coastline for our oil-guzzling yachts.

So, I hate to be a downer, but until governments get involved, really involved, what I do or don't do has little to no impact on the environment. But I still won't bury car batteries in the back yard, I promise.