99) Quiet

It's quiet on the blogs today; it has been all week.  I think it probably has something to do with Thanksgiving, at least for the North American part of my blogroll.  Folks out there are packing, or travelling, or cooking, or socialising.  I'm looking forwards to Christmas, so I can do the same, but I'm quietly thankful (hah!  Yes, thankful) that I don't get two large holidays so close to each other.  Happy Thanksgiving, you guys!

It's quiet in the house, too, apart from when the post arrives or my canine companions spot a cat (real or imaginary) in the garden.  I'm working from home because of the breathing thing (which is 'probably a virus or something' and 'will get better on its own', apparently.  Thanks, doc!), and although I enjoy the sociable nature of my current workplace, it's nice to have an uninterrupted flow of quiet time to really get stuck into the job at hand, too.

Generally speaking, I like quiet.  I don't need to have music on all the time, and nor do I turn the telly on for 'background noise'.  Music is for dancing to, or playing; I rarely just listen to it, though I do have quite a lot of chilled, ambient stuff that I play whilst working, generally to deaden the 'background noise' of other people.  And the telly has to be paid attention to; I might mostly watch the telly 'with my ears' whilst spinning, knitting or weaving, but I *do* pay attention to it.

Quiet:  it gives the thoughts in my head room to move.

Weather

98) P: Panic, or Possibly Pneumonia, or Planet, fallen-off-of-the-face-of

OK, my alphabet challenge isn't goign to be finished in a month.  Surpriiise!

I've started a few P-posts, about post offices, parcels, postage, packaging (as in, excessive), but they were all snarky and snide and not really 'me', so I binned 'em.

I'd got stuck on 'P', so I was pouty and petulant and peeved.  And I've spent the last few days feeling slightly panicky – though it's nothing to do with silly alphabet challenges (or even Pyjamas!  Now, that would have been a good P…).

I'm a bit …ill-ish.  I really don't want to sound all dramatic, but I can't quite breathe properly.  My lungs are achey and feel 'clenched', somehow, and it seems there isn't quite as much oxygen in the air as there should be.  It feels like the symptoms of acute, panicky anxiety, and so in a fit of extreme conditioning, my emotions are following suit.  So I've been wandering around feeling anxious and sad and panicky, all because my lungs have led the way.

I have a doctor's appointment in about an hour, and I'm suspecting some sort of chest infection.  Pneumonia would fit the P-theme nicely, but the universe doesn't have to play along with quite such enthusiasm really.

In the meantime, I'm going to continue with the alphabet, but more slowly.  I was failing to keep up with the comments anyway.

Oh – and the person who found this blog by Googling "Can you do 4 shaft patterns on an 8 shaft loom?" – yes.  Yes, you certainly can!  🙂

97) Old, but still good

DSC04410

This, my friends, is a pair of my pyjama trousers.  Exciting, huh?  No?  Well, I guess that's sort of the point.  I've had them years.  I didn't even make them myself.

The elastic has 'gone' in the waist, and in fact, has been 'gone' for quite some time – about a year now.  This means that every time I wear them I either have to suffer the things falling down, or wander round with one hand holding them up, or try and keep them up by tying the waistband in some sort of knot or using a hair clip thing to bunch it up, or something.  In extremis, I've worn a belt over the top of them, which looks real classy, I can tell you.

In my efforts to treat myself well, I've been planning to get rid of them, buy or make some new pyjamas.  After all, this is downright undignified.  But the elastic is really the only thing that's wrong with them, and I try to treat the environment well too, and consigning acres of polyester fleece to the tip in order to purchase more doesn't sit quite right with me.  So I spent about 5 minutes (OK, 10, since I had to find everything in my newly-reorganised studio) unpicking a small section of seam, running new elastic through the waistband and sewing it back together again.  Fixed, and pretty much for free.

I'm not sure why part of me would rather make new pyjamas than fix the old, but it's probably the same thing that makes most knitters cast on tens of project at a time, rather than working on the existing ones.  I'm reminded of a saying that Leigh brought to my attention reecently: 

Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without

There really are worse mottoes to live by.

Speaking of knitting, I have deviated from my own 'one project at once' habit, but it's for a gift, so I don't feel too bad about it.  Because it's a gift, though, I can't blog about it all that much.  Suffice it to say that this pattern is also an Oldie, but a Goodie, and I bet a fair few knitting readers will recognise it from even a small shot:

Crop1

But please don't spill the beans in the comments.  You wouldn't want to ruin the surprise now, would you?

96) Nothing tastes as good as…

My thanks go to Kate Moss for the topical nature of this post.

For anyone even more news-deprived than I am, she is currently being lambasted for 'promoting anorexia', after stating a motto of, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels".  I have seriously mixed feelings on this issue.  I'm not a great fan of the woman, not at all, but…

She's working in an industry that 'discovered' her and rewarded her for her prepubescent figure when she was, let's face it, prepubescent.  The industry has made her rich and famous, and it's pretty much all she knows.  It's also basically her job description to stay thin, and that's going to skew anybody's perspective.

She didn't invent the line; it originally belonged to a large, professional weight-loss organisation1.  As a slogan for people who have emotional eating issues and who would like to stop being overweight, it's a powerful, positive motivator, and if more people in this world remembered that giving up a small
pleasure now can lead to greater happiness later on, there would be a
lot less debt, envy, misery and suffering.

I don't want people to aspire to being 'thin' or 'skinny', admittedly.  Both words imply 'underweight', to me – unhealthy and unattractive.  I would far rather people aimed for 'slim' or 'healthy'.  But then, so few people know what 'healthily slim' looks like now. 

Expecting a supermodel to be a good role model?  Whose problem is that?


1 yes, I know it's a statement espoused by pro-anorexia sites and so-called 'thinspiration' sites, but I *only* know that because of these news stories.

95) Must!

"Must" is the stuff wine is made of, before the yeast gets added.  Crushed or juiced fruit, sugar, maybe water, and a heady cocktail of other additives, like yeast nutrient, acid blends, pectic enzyme and so on.  It's sweet, syrupy, and the delight of small children – as long as they don't mind 'bits' in their 'drink'.

I've made 36 bottles of wine this year, and half of those have been country-style (non-grape) wines made from 'free' ingredients – crabapples, elderberries, dandelion flowers.  The rest have been from grape extract kits, and, whilst definitely drinkable, do not give me anything like the same sense of satisfaction as the 'wild' wines.

So imagine my delight when a colleague asked, with great eagerness, if I could use 'some grapes' that he had available.  The man has a vine in a greenhouse, and has been unable to get his usual brewer(!) to come in and sort them out this year.  Short of letting them all drop off the vine and ferment around his ankles, I think he was at his wit's end as to what to do with the things.

I said yes.  (Duh!)

DSC04394

He showed up on Monday with a five gallon bucket pretty much full of grapes.  (That's a six gallon bucket for readers in the US.  Why US gallons are different to UK ones I don't know, but it makes googling for brewing recipes a risky business.)  Apparently, there's still probably an equal amount of grapes on the floor of his greenhouse, but I think I'll leave him to deal with those.

Anyway.  Forty pounds of grapes.  Enough to make a confident 3 gallons of wine (UK measures), or another 18 bottles, give or take.

No wine press.

To make wine from grapes, you need to crush the grapes, and press the juice out.  In the case of red wine, which is what I plan to make from these intensely dark and sweet grapes, some fermentation happens between the crushing and pressing; for white wine, it's pretty much all done as a single step, before the fermentation happens.  Pressing takes a fair amount of muscle if you don't want to waste loads of juice, and I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do about that.

DSC04393

Crushing, though, I can do.  Turns out that a food processor with the plastic 'pastry' blade fitted has enough clout to pulverise the grapes without splitting the pips open.  Pips are bitter; we don't want to extract the flavour from them.

It'll still take you a couple of hours to work through 40 or so pounds, though.

DSC04397 

So, that's my must.  I tried to take a hydrometer reading1 to find out how sweet these grapes are.  I ate a couple (they're sweet! – unusual for a wine variety, but these have been picked late), but the hydrometer is more accurate.  Or should be.

First, I tried grabbing a scoopful of the must and straining it through a mesh bag.  That gave me a hydrometer reading of 1.118, which is –errm- on the high side even for sweet grapes with no sugar added.  I think the 'bits' that made it though the strainer were buoying up the hydrometer, giving me an artificially high reading.

Then, I tried to use the wine thief2 to get 'just juice' out of the bucket.  I got juice and pips.  The pips stuck between the wall of the measuring cylinder and the body of the hydrometer, and stopped it moving.  I could get any reading from over 1.200 to under 0.990 with this system.

I poured the juice-plus-pips through the nylon bag, and finally got a reading of 1.080, which seems more reasonable.  I'm aiming for a reading of between 1.113 and 1.123, according to this recipe, so I plumped for a mid-point of 1.118 and used the rule of thumb that 12-15g of sugar per litre will raise the S.G by 0.005 to figure out I probably need 2kg of sugar to get me up to that point.

It's easier to add more sugar than remove it, so I bunged 1.5kg sugar into the bucket (nowhere near the 6kg that the Concord recipe suggests – that's how sweet these grapes are!), added Campden tablets, nutrient and pectolase and went to bed.  I'll try and get a more accurate reading this evening, before I add the yeast.

I didn't have enough pectolase left (this stuff breaks down cell walls and makes for more efficient juice extraction), so I just added all I had.  I did have enough nutrient – just! – but I now need to order more of both.  Because clearly, I never know when I simply must make wine.


1 A hydrometer measures the density of a liquid, relative to water (S.G 1.000).  Sugar makes the liquid denser, and gives a higher reading.  Alcohol does the opposite.  If you know the starting and finishing gravities of a brew, you can estimate the alcohol content, by assuming that the only change that has occurred is that sugar has turned into alcohol.

2 A wine thief is a tube with a narrow hole at each end.  The theory is that you plunge it into whatever you want a sample of, then stop the top hole with your thumb.  When you take it out, the liquid you have just trapped inside it comes with you, and you can put it in your hydrometer, your tasting glass, whatever.

94) Looms and… lust?

So I've had my eye on the Leclerc Artisat loom for a couple of weeks now.  It folds, yet has a decent weaving width (36").  I'm interested in weaving yardage, so that's really the narrowest I can contemplate.  It's available in four and eight shaft versions, with a conversion kit available for those who suffer late-onset harness envy.  (Sorry, but I can't say 'shaft envy' with a straight face.  I just can't).

It will fit neatly where the silver shelves in my studio were, until a few days ago.   And there's a second hand, four-shaft one available for a really good price – about a third of the new price.  But the conversion kit, plus the second hand loom, costs the same as the 8-shaft version costs, brand new.  The conversion kit costs over £1000.

This throws a spanner in the works, somewhat.  Leaving my 'green' credentials aside for a moment, it makes so much more sense to buy a new loom-one that doesn't need a kit retrofitted to it, that has a warranty, that I know I can get retailer support for-than it does to buy a second-hand piece of kit that will probably need alterations, that is fundamentally an unknown quantity, and which, if I decide to convert it, will cost me about as much as the new loom would.

If I decide to convert it.  Four shafts certainly provides enough to play with for years and years and years – heck, even plain weave can keep a person busy for a whole career – and I've always said that my main interest in weaving comes from a desire to weave yardage for historical re-enactment purposes.  Unless you buy a drawloom, four shafts is plenty good enough for that.  Mind you, I haven't done any re-enactment since March, and though I'm still very interested in it, it's a cerebral kind of interest.  And it's not my *only* interest.

My gut feeling is that, if I don't have the extra shafts, then I will probably regret it.  Even if I don't use them 90% of the time, they will be worth it for the other 10%.

But I can't justify spending one and a half grand on a loom right now.  Not when I have so many other things I could be doing – and that I would like to be doing.  So my choices are simple:

  1. Go with the cheap second-hand loom now, and trade it in when the time comes.
  2. Go with the cheap second hand loom now, and upgrade it when the time comes.
  3. Wait till my birthday (March), at least, and save up for the 8-shaft loom.

Every fibre (ha!) of my being cries out against being so sensible…  but I think option 3 is winning.  It'll give me some time to get really stuck into that project backlog, and decide whether I want to keep (for example) that knitting machine.  I can play with my two (ahem) three existing looms and think some more about what I really want to weave, and what I really want to own.

And who knows?  A cheap 8-shaft second hand loom might come up in that time, too.

93) Kracking Krokbragd, Grommit!

So after extensive re-organisation of the studio, I spent a good chunk of yesterday figuring out how to weave Krokbragd on a rigid heddle loom, with two heddles:

DSC04355

My word, I think I've got it!!

Krokbragd is a weft-faced weave woven on three shafts.  Just like with the 2-1 twill I experimented with a while ago, a rigid heddle loom with two heddles on it has three shafts.  A 'regular' loom needs a harness for every shaft it uses; the rigid heddle gets an extra one for free, because the threads that pass through the holes in the heddle can be pushed down as well as pulled up, leaving the threads in the slots behind.  With two heddles, a thread can pass through slots alone (let's call this shaft 1), through the front hole and the back slot (shaft 2), or through the front slot and the back hole (shaft 3). 

Krokbragd is threaded on a four-thread repeat, over the three shafts, in a pattern that repeats 1-2-3-2.  That looks like this on our rigid heddle threading:

KrokbragdRH

Use a 1-2-3 lifting pattern, and you get something like this:

3shaftPointTwill

  Which doesn't look an awful lot like the first picture, does it?  Well, my lovelies, that will have to wait for another day.

92) J-J-Japanese sewing patterns!

This one is all Poshyarn's fault.

For years, she has been sewing the most gorgeous garments for her little girl, and for herself.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that she has the most impeccable taste in fabrics, but the other secret ingredient…

Japanese sewing patterns.

Japanese

I mean, yum.

There is the slight problem that I'm 6ft tall, with a 38" bust, and the 'extra large' size of the Japanese patterns is generally written for someone who is about 5ft 3" with a 36" bust, but we can do math, right?

I hope so, anyway, because I just ordered this.  Apart from anything else, a title of 'Happy Homemade Wardrobe' is just *too* appealing.  Wish me luck!

91) I, I, impossible I…

I is for 'impossibility'.  I've been trying to organise my studio over the last week.  I'd love to be able to fit a floor loom in there – one that has at least a 36 inch weaving width, and preferably more than four shafts.

I realise this is a desperately affluent problem to have, but… I just have too much stuff!  I'm destashing like mad on eBay (there's loads of Jamieson's Soft Shetland up there right now, plus some fabrics; more to come!) but I still have so much stuff that I can't bring myself to get rid of, it's going to take me at least five years to work through it!  And that's without buying a new loom.

I wouldn't mind so much, but I really don't have room to store all this stuff.  And it seems that if I *did* have enough room, I'd just buy more stuff until I had exactly the same level of overflow problem yet again.

I've moved just about all my business-related materials out of the room (and realised that yes, I have a lot of hand-dyed yarn to sell).  I've rationalized yarn, fabrics and patterns fiercely.  I've moved most of my books downstairs to the bookshelves.  I've managed to get the big, silver shelves visible in the photo from last week moved out of my studio and into the shed, which is a good start.  And my desk still looks like this:

DSC04353

Arrgh.  And the inspirations, they won't stop coming.  A few things have become clear, though:

  • I need to keep an inspirations notebook, not just buy the materials for every new project or hobby that takes my fancy.
  • I need to finish up more projects, so I can actually get them out of my studio.
  • I need to remember that I *hate* having to sell on stuff I've bought and never used.  It's far easier, and cheaper, not to buy the stuff in the first place.
  • I need something like a laundry basket to corral all the odd things that don't have homes in my studio. 
  • Then I need to deal with the things in the basket, before the basket overflows.
  • I need to keep dealing with this stuff, because, even if it's really frustrating right now, it won't go away if I ignore it.
  • Or if I ignore the causes of it.
  • I need to not keep stuff out of guilt or obligation.  That way, I might have the materials to hand to start the projects I really want to work on.

90) H – hosting, or huff, or How Do I…?

Yesterday was nearly 'G for Grumpy'.

I'm back to the perennial issue of blogging software.  A couple of years ago I came over to TypePad from Blogger because I was fed up of not being able to reply to people who had left comments on my blog.

Recently, TypePad has messed up its own comments system, and despite putting in a workaround for us vocal knitblogger types, it's still messing with my head.  I know I keep sending replies out into the wild blue yonder, but I don't know how often, or to whom.  I certainly don't expect people to keep coming back to my blog to find out if I've replied to their comment or not – who's got time for that nonsense? – yet that is where comments keep going, unless I keep right on top of things.  And I don't.  I just don't.

Since then, I've noticed that when I leave comments using my TypePad OpenID thingy, my name pops up as 1ef48ed86ac5 or something like.  Not friendly.

Yesterday, I happened to notice that my then-most-recent post had three comments – hang on, I've only received email notification of one!  What's up with that?  Nope, not in my spam folder.  Just Not There.

I pay for TypePad.  Blogger is free.  I want to be able to reply to people who comment on my blog, and for those people to actually receive my replies.  I want to be able to comment on other people's blogs, preferably in such a way that I don't look too much like a spammer with a fake name, and so that the recipient of the comment can also reply, should they wish to do so.  I don't want to have to smear my email address all over the internet in plain text, or ask commenters on my site to do so, because I think we probably all receive enough spam already as it is.

So what to do?  Why is this so difficult?  Do other people find that this is a real bugbear, or am I just being dumb?  I would love, over the next few months, to pick a blog platform, get it running just the way I like, migrate all my old posts to it, and stay there.