Saturday, June 21, 2014

Alpacas and Llamas and Sheep, Oh, My!

Nearly five months later...   I'm finally getting around to talking about the IEHG West's February road trip.

IEHG West is an informal group of members of the Inland Empire Handweavers Guild that meets one Saturday a month, usually at a member's home.   at our January meeting, one of the members brought out a box filled with roving processed for her by Tom and Metta at Ranch of the Oaks.  Well, we all raved over it and one thing led to another - ending with me whipping out my iPad and emailing Metta to see if we could tour the ranch and fiber mill.

The result was that one beautiful day in February, twenty or so members, guests, and assorted husbands converged on Solvang, a little Danish village in the Santa Inez Valley.  Solvang is the home of Village Spinning and Weaving, one of the few (if not the only) brick-and-mortar stores serving weavers and spinners in California.  We had time to shop a little and have lunch before we were due at the ranch.

I've mail ordered from VS&W and shopped in their booth at the SCHG's annual Weaving and Fiber Festival.  But I've never been in their store and I was pretty excited about seeing it for the first time.  As some of our members were getting ready to pose for a group photo in front of the shop, the owner unlocked the entrance.  Can you blame me for snapping this shot and running for the door?

They had all kinds of yarns, tools, books - not just for spinning and weaving, but felting, knitting...  all types of fiber arts.  Instant bliss for the fiber frenzied!  As much as I like being able to find anything on the internet, there's nothing like being able to actually see and touch.

At the ranch we were given the royal tour by Mette and Tom.  The alpacas and llamas are kept in separate pens by gender.  The males can get aggressive, so we were invited to go into one of the pens with the females.  They were a bit shy until we offered them little baby carrots.  Then we couldn't get away from them.  What fun! 

I just love alpacas.  Love their funny faces, their many beautiful colors, their little humming noises, their friendliness.  And love spinning their fiber.

The llamas were not as friendly.  They kept their distance, even when the carrots came out.  So naturally I took up the challenge of making friends with a llama.

I spent a lot of my time trying to get close to this beautiful llama.  No soap. Couldn't even bribe her with carrots.

Finally gave up and turned my back on her.  A minute later I felt a little nudge on my back.  Turned around and got a llama kiss right on the lips.  Guess playing hard-to-get did the trick.

This was a day of firsts for me...  first visit to Village Spinning and Weaving, first visit to Ranch of the Oaks, first kiss from a llama, and first time spit on by an alpaca.

Well, not really spit - I hear real alpaca spit is slimy and disgusting.  This particular llama simply seemed to take a dislike to a carrot I had just fed her and she blew it right back at me after chewing it up.

But I forgive her because she's so darned cute.  Even though I'm pretty sure she was laughing at me with her friend.

 A small herd of Icelandic sheep live in a separate pen. This is one of the oldest and purest breeds of sheep.  I love that these are very close to the same sheep my Viking ancestors would have kept while they were pillaging and plundering my Manx ancestors.

Then Tom gave a tour of the mill.  I was so excited to see their process, I failed to take photos.  Guess I'll have to go back for another visit.  There was just enough time after that to do a little shopping in their store.  I have to say it got a little competitive, but no limbs were lost and everybody went home happy.

This lovely little shawl is made of 100% Icelandic Lopi wool raised, processed and spun by Tom and Mette.  The pattern is called "Rustic Bohemian," designed and knitted by Rebecca Stromgren, aka "Knits With Penguins" on Ravelry.  Since I look almost as silly in shawls as I do in hats, this will be a lovely gift for someone special.

For myself, I bought this "mystery" roving.  I couldn't decide which color I preferred so I made the only sensible choice and bought both.  Because I really need more fiber to spin.  Yeah.
Below are the rest of that day's alpaca photos.  If you're not an alpaca fan, you can stop here.  Otherwise, please enjoy these photos of some of my favorite animals (with a llama or two thrown in for good measure).


Monday, May 12, 2014

I'm Still Here!

Well, I let another three months go by without a word.  I need a few more hours in the day.

Still turning wood in all the spare time I can find.  I've been concentrating on segmented pieces - but rather than the strict, measured pieces I've been seeing, I like curves and free-form designs.  Even my pieces that appear to be square are deliberately cut at slight to radical angles and of different sizes.  Guess I've finally embraced my inability to draw a straight line.

I've made a couple of special pieces for special people.  The first was for a classmate from way back in the dark ages who asked me to make him something surprising.  I put together a questionnaire to gather information about his background and interests that gave me ideas about what woods and metals to use.  Included some woods from (or native to) his ancestral countries, some wood a friend brought me from our old high school, and put together something that surprised me, too!

It's so different from all the pens I've seen, I was a little scared about sending it off.  I took it along with a few other pens to my first meeting with the Inland Woodturners group (more on that later) and a couple of pen turners there gave it high praise - so I put it in the mail and crossed my fingers.

Turned out Wade loved the pen.  Phew!  I think that may be the last time I make something by request.  It's just too stressful.  Much more fun to make pens that interest me and if someone likes, them, all the better.

Next I made a special pen for my cousin Billy, who was doing a reading and signing event for his latest book, Remembering Gordon Street.  I love this book because he included little bits and pieces about my parents and quite a bit about my grandparents.  Much of it is set in the family home where I now live, the Grove House.  Coincidentally, the last of the original orange trees that he talks about has been slowly dying and we removed some of the branches a couple of months ago.  Of course, I added it to my wood stash, so when I decided to make his pen, it seemed only natural to include some of this wood.


 This gave me a chance to use my new stabilizing chamber.  I ordered this several months ago from Turntex Woodworks, but his products are so popular he has had a backlog of orders.  It was definitely worth waiting for - very well constructed and worked perfectly on the very first try.

Mad scientist time!  The bubbles you see here are the air being sucked out of the wood.  When I release the vacuum, the liquid resin in the chamber will get sucked into the wood.  I'll cure it in a toaster oven (never to be used for food after this) for a few hours and have some really stable wood to turn.

Billy's pen on the lathe.  The cream-colored piece is the orange wood.

Two sides of the same pen:  the brown is walnut, the red is bloodwood.  The bottom half of the pen is the orange wood.

 I also finished a pen I've been working on for several weeks and this is my favorite piece yet.  I started with four different pieces of wood, glued together into one block.  Then I cut the block into thin slices, rotated each slice an eighth of a turn beyond the previous slice, and glued them all back together.  Drilled a hole in the center, inserted a brass tube and turned it.

And here's the result.  I absolutely love this pen!

In the meantime, I took a bandsaw class at the Woodcraft store in Fountain Valley.  Learned how to change the blade on my bandsaw, maintain, and troubleshoot it.  Learned for sure what I already pretty much knew - the little bandsaw I already have doesn't have the oomph to make a controlled cut - especially a straight one.  So I think there's a big bandsaw somewhere in my future.

We cut and glued pieces for two small cutting boards.  Funny thing was there were three men in the class with me.  I let all three of them go first - each one swaggered up to the saw then slunk away when they couldn't cut on the lines.  Got a little bit of the "let's see what the little lady can do" treatment when it was my turn.  Turns out that cutting on a properly adjusted saw is just like guiding fabric through a sewing machine.  So I pretty much zipped through my turn.  Pretty funny seeing the smirks turn to disbelief.
These are the pieces I made...  we didn't have time to finish during the class, so we were sent home with instructions to stack and re-cut these crosswise, swap the pieces, and reglue to create two finished pieces with a wavy checkerboard pattern.  Doesn't really appeal to me, so I may cut them into pen or spindle blanks.

One of the best parts of the class was using the drum sander.  To get good joins in segmenting, your surfaces have to fit well - and this tool is recommended as essential for doing flat segments.  While surfing Craigslist a few days later for that big bandsaw, I spotted a drum sander at a ridiculously low price.  24 hours and a quick drive to Yucaipa later, I became the proud owner of a really nice Grizzly baby drum sander, along with a supply of sandpaper and an extra motor (drive shafts on these are designed to snap when they get jammed.

As I mentioned earlier, I went to my first meeting of the Inland Woodturners.  That month's demo was on turning natural-edged bowls.  Although I haven't been interested in bowls, I may have to re-think this.  There were quite a few show-and-tell pieces, including some marvelous segmented pieces.  I took along a portfolio of my pens and a friend told me I should put them in the show and tell.  He neglected to tell me I would have to go up front to talk about my work.  Yuck.  But I got a lot of compliments and some great advice. 

My second meeting featured a demo on inlaid pens. This is a technique I've tried without much success but I learned enough from this demo that I'm ready to try again.  If I can find the patience to place the inlay materials one tiny piece at a time.

I have more to tell about but this is long enough for one post, so I'm going to close with photos of  some of my recent work and works in progress.

Cutting a pair of blanks on the scroll saw.  I'll swap half of each piece for a pair of two-color pens.
First cuts on future segmented pens.  These will be sandwiched with contrasting veneer to make single-color pens with curvy lines through them.

Glue-ups clamped and drying.  A girl can never have enough clamps!

A quartet of pens made of olive wood from Bethlehem.  One of my favorite woods.

Free-Form Segments

Monday, January 27, 2014

Where Has the Time Gone?

I'll tell you where...  right down the drain!

Skip this paragraph to avoid egregious whining.  I started this post with a long description of my last five weeks or so, but no one who happens to read this is interested the gory details.  So I will simply say that I had the flu and it took forever to recover.  Last weekend was the first time since mid-December that I felt good enough to do anything I didn't absolutely have to do, and I took full advantage of the day. Enough said!

So to catch up with the end of 2013...

Late last spring, I came across a spinning wheel that I just fell in love with.  Came to find out it was made by Betty Roberts, lady in Washington state who builds the most beautiful wheels.  She makes several styles  in a number of different woods.  What makes her wheels easy to spot is an inlay of wildflowers and butterflies with different colored backgrounds.  After several email conversations with Betty,  I found myself ordering a custom-made castle-style wheel with a Chinese red inlay.  It arrived in November, and has been gracing my living room since then.  I'm sorry to say that I was so busy making pens that I didn't have time to do more than admire the wheel until this month.

I've had just a little time to play with the new wheel this month.  It's a double-drive, which I've never tried before, and I'm challenged by a bit of a learning curve...  so far I've managed to spin the drive band right off the wheel within seconds each time I begin treadling, but I WILL get it together.  In the meantime, I'm enjoying just gazing at her while pretending to watch TV and trying to get her to tell me her name.

Last weekend I felt great and spend most of my free time in the shop turning pens.  I had several "novelty" pen kits that included fanciful details and thought it would be fun to do those as well as my favorite Manhattan style pens.  Also had a couple of pens that needed adjustment and took care of those.  Results:

Manhattan Pen in Green/Terra Cotta Acrylic

Knight's Armor Pen in Ironwood
Detail of Knight's Armor Pen
Celtic Pen in East Indian Rosewood
Detail of Celtic Pen

Manhattan Pen in "Lava" Inlace Acrylester

Royal Pen in Holly
Detail of Royal Pen

Detail of Victorian Pen
Victorian Pen in Mahogany

Detail of Nouveau Sceptre Band
Nouveau Sceptre Pen in Laminated Woods
Manhattan Pen in Olivewood from Bethlehem

Lancer Pen in Violet Inlace Acrylester

And had time to inventory my unused pen kits (100+!) plus get a dozen or so in the prep stages before turning.  All I need know is a few more days in the week.

Also started a couple of baby blankets in novelty yarns.  Actually meant to do only this one:

This is Loops and Threads Pom Pom yarn from Michaels.  Didn't start it until Wednesday night for a baby shower on Saturday - not realizing that knitting between all the little pom-poms would slow me down so much -- not that I'm a fast knitter to start with.   Realizing after a few hours of knitting that night that I wouldn't be able to get it done in time even if I did nothing but knit until Saturday, I made an emergency dash to Michael's Thursday afternoon and found this:

Bernat "Tizzy" super-bulky baby yarn in "Green Pea."  Even though it's highly textured, this yarn knits up really fast and I love the feel of it.  Reminds me of a thick shag rug, but in a good way, and I'm tempted to make a lap-robed size for myself.

I did manage to get about a third of this done before the baby shower.  Good thing Baby Z isn't due for another month or so...  I WILL have it done by then.

Last weekend I was invited by a friend of a friend to go to an "Eat 'n Stitch Yarn Swap" with her crochet/knitting group. Karen is a new spinning wheel owner and we were both planning to bring our wheels along for the group to try out.  Never having been to a yarn swap, I imagined each person bringing a few skeins of unwanted yarn, doing a little horse-trading back and forth until all the yarn was traded and we got on with our knitting/crochet/insert-name-of-craft here.  I didn't have time to grab anything out of my stash, so I decided to go just to meet Karen and her friends, and see what they were working on. 

To my surprise, when I arrived I was handed a large space bag (one of those giant baggies you vacuum the air out of to compress whatever is in it) and ushered into a garage bursting at the seams with bags and plastic tubs full of yarn.   I tried to demur, saying that I hadn't brought anything to share, but the hostess, Heather, insisted that most of the yarn came from her stash and her goal was to have it all find new homes.

I liked the way she was doing this exchange -- she had an app on her iPad, and when she spun a virtual wheel, it randomly picked a name.  Then that person got to choose five skeins of yarn to take home.  After this had gone on for a while, I think Heather realized that we could be there for a few days before all the yarn was taken, so she announced that it was time for people to just start stuffing their bags with yarn.   It was actually a lot of fun - there was no grabbing or fighting -- in fact there was more "enabling" going on than anything else.  You know, where you find a yarn that someone else would like and make sure they have a chance at it.  I came home with several really nice skeins - some sock yarn that I will use to make socks I can donate to a project my sock knitters' club is starting, and some heavier weight yarns that might go into the shawl-making bin or get passed on to friends.  I hope I'll get invited to one of these again, because I would love to destash a few cubic yards of yarn that I will never touch.

Just a Little of the Yarn Being "Swapped"
  After all the swapping was done, we retired to the house, where we chatted, snacked, and knitted/crocheted/spun.  I had a chance to let people try out my Hansen MiniSpinner, and just had a nice, relaxing afternoon.

Yesterday I went to a crank-in at my new friend Loan's home in Calabasas.  We've been in the same spinning guild for a couple of years, but as I told her, I've been in such awe of her spinning skills, I have been afraid to talk to her.  We got to know each other a little through Ravelry...  She was one of the first people to join the SoCal Crankers group I started for circular sock machine enthusiasts.

My loss for letting two years go by without getting to know this remarkable and talented woman.  Not only am I in awe of her spinning, now I'm in awe of her knitting skills.  There was only one other guest, Anita, at the crank-in, so it turned out to be a private knitting lesson for the two of us.  Loan could sit down at either of our machines and crank out a perfect heel, and she could tell us what was causing any problem just by looking at the knitting in progress.   Loan has (by my count) four working CSMs and one she is restoring.  Which turns out to be a good thing, because somehow I managed to leave my yarn guide (the y-shaped thingy that sits on top of the yarn mast) at home.  No problem...  Loan opened a cupboard door and pulled out the mask from her antique Gearhart machine.  It fit my machine base perfectly and I was in business.  Kinda.  The weight from my mast was way too heavy and made the heel spring not work properly, so I spent a lot of time tensioning the yarn myself.  And Loan, bless her generous heart, spent quite some time holding the yarn for me.

I meant to take photos when all the machines were set up, but naturally I forgot until Anita and I had already put ours away.  But here's a photo of Loan's living room, which was the perfect setting for several people to sit and crank.  In the foreground with all the holes is my traveling machine table - I got it with a coupon for about $12 at  Harbor Freight.  This was the first time I'd used it and I was concerned that it might be a bit flimsy.  But it was plenty sturdy and didn't even wobble when I cranked.  Plus it's light enough that it takes almost no effort to fling in the back of the car.

The table to the left is Loan's.  I'm pretty sure it's this projector table from Very attractive table and Loan says it's sturdy enough to hold two machines at once.  If I didn't already have my Erlbacher table, which I love, I would seriously think about this one.  The table to the left of the fireplace is Loan's Erlbacher table.  This is the one she takes to all of her demonstrations.  And Anita uses a barstool for her machine.  All four great choices for supporting a machine.  (Note - barstools should have a weight hung over a rung on the side opposite the machine to provide some extra balance).

Speaking of portability, I used my Fat Max (how offensive is that name?!) rolling workshop to transport my machine and tools.     Bought it several years ago for another hobby and haven't been using it lately so I thought I'd give it a try.  Not good.  Getting it in the car was a challenge - it's pretty bulky and VERY heavy when loaded with everything.  Getting it out at Loan's house was worse.  Getting it back in yesterday afternoon was even worse -- I'm not even going to try to explain the massive bruises on my leg but I will say it's not a good idea to use one's leg for leverage.  And I waited until this morning when I absolutely HAD to unload the car to try to get it out.   Going to pick up this rolling workshop on my way home from work tonight because it can be broken down into three separate pieces for transport. And probably ordering a transporter made to fit in it from Dewberry Ridge.  I've been eying this ever since it came out and it looks like I will be traveling with my machine enough to justify paying for the added safety.

By the time we left, Loan had gone through heel-turning on each of our machines, had Anita finish her first cast-on bonnet, turned a sock and grafted the toe so we could see her Kitchner technique from start to finish, and done a lot of hand-holding and cheerleading.  As much as I learned (and forgot) at my first crank-in, I learned even more from Loan.  I feel like I could go home and make a sock now.

As an added bonus yesterday, we had a nice lunch, and Loan served her homemade (!) macarons for dessert.  They were perfect.  Even though I told her I shouldn't have all the calories, I didn't exactly object when she sent me home with this box. 

All I will say is I didn't exactly share them when I got home, either.

I wonder if there's a low-calorie version of these?  I would totally love to learn how to make them!

In other CSM-related news...  I've failed to mention that a few months ago I joined a newly formed society for CSM enthusiasts...  which is now called the Circular Sock Knitting Machine Society.  There has been at least one organization for CSM users before this, and I gather it imploded last spring.  I don't know exactly what happened (and I don't particularly want to know).  But the new society's board was looking for writers and an editor for their newsletter, and I volunteered to write.  When no one came forward to be the editor, I volunteered and somehow I find that I'm not only the newsletter editor, but a board member. (Thanks, Mom, for teaching me that if you're going to join an organization, you should be an active participant.  Am I being sincere or sarcastic?)

I have to say that every one of the board members is really dedicated to getting this organization off the ground and has put in many hours of work in meetings, budgeting, dealing with governmental red tape, writing articles for the newsletter, etc..   I spend about 40-50 hours myself just assembling one issue of the newsletter and collecting all the bits and pieces that fill it in.  Not complaining, because I really enjoy it, but thank goodness it's not a monthly! Although the newsletter is a members-only benefit, we made the very first issue public.  Last month I redesigned it to complement our new website design, and have replaced the ugly graphics with a very attractive (I think) design.  We're also getting some great content.  If you happen to have come to my blog looking for CSM info and you're not already a member of CSKMS,  I hope you'll consider joining us.  We're already planning a conference to take place in August 2014 - and hope that it will be just the first in a series of annual conferences.