28) Does craft matter to you?

If so, do go here and state your opinions.  You've got a maximum of 600 characters (so Twitter aficionados won't know what to do with the extra 460, but will have great skills for filling it anyway).  This survey is being run by a UK-based organisation, BUT you can participate from anywhere in the world.  Let's see this thing go viral!  😀

Craft matters because in an increasingly homogenised, virtualised, automated society, it provides us with an opportunity to individualise, to connect with the real, to slow down. There are few experiences more satisfying than producing something both beautiful and useful with your own hands, or learning and honing a new skill. On our crowded earth, we must learn to relish what we have, not clamour for more. Traditional crafts can teach us that a well-crafted item, cherished for years, is preferable to cheap, disposable, mass-produced plastic. So, can craft help save our sanity and our planet?

27) Purple patch

Yesterday was an awesome postal day.  I received my awesome new spindle (a Natalie silk spindle in purpleheart wood), and not one, but two wonderful batts from Franquemont Fibers – also in shades of purple.  Oddly, these were both ordered, from the US, exactly a month apart.  Customs have been holding my little spindle hostage!

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Notice anything odd about the photo above?  One spindle, two batts, and… a plughole?!  Yes.  J's Dad is currently staying with us, and the boys are, together, refitting our whole bathroom; floor to ceiling, suite to walls.  This has at least something to do with the sheer overwhelm I've been feeling recently, as well as the lack of fiber-y activity, because my studio is out-of-bounds and the living room is full of boxes and tools.  Using the new sink as a photographical background was just a whimsy, really, but in terms of colour and lighting, it's one of the best I've ever taken.  A bit of vignetting from the curve of the bowl, and an errant highlight over to the left, but otherwise… move over, lightboxes!

Anyway, you can't leave a new spindle unchristened, and indeed, Natalie came with a little pouf of rayon/tussah fibre, according to the note slipped into the box.  I can tell that Natalie and I are going to be friends, because this was the result:

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Around two metres of two-ply, around fingering weight.  We played together well right from the start; she spins fast, though not particularly long, and I might have to learn to draft faster to keep up, but I can see how she will be perfect for spinning long-staple fibre into high-twist yarns, just as advertised.

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This was my first time spinning anything with rayon in it, and it definitely changed the character of the tussah (which I have spun with quite a bit).  It felt crunchy and squeaky, rather than soft and fluid, and I suspect that it needs slightly less twist than pure silk if you want to keep any softness and drape in the finished yarn.  I definitely prefer pure silk, but this was a lot of fun.  Yum!

26) Still in hiding, and success with sourdough

I have no idea where the blog-mojo has been for the last month, I really don't.  It's not as if I'm just hanging out on the sofa with the hounds; stuff is happening left, right and centre, it's just that I'm not getting around to writing about it.

On the other hand, I've finally worked out a recipe and method that allows me to make all-machine white sourdough with minimal effort and zero waste.  In fact, the last time I made it, it was so well-risen that it over-rose the bucket and tried to climb out the top of the machine:

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You can see how tall it was.  It bulges outwards where it grew beyond the edges of the bucket, and that flattened spot on the top is where it hit the lid of the machine.

Then again…  this loaf weighed almost 1kg (over 2lb).  I may just scale back the recipe for future use, especially as J still isn't keen on it.

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I, on the other hand, adore this bread.  I can eat it by itself when fresh (or nearly so), with butter when less fresh, toasted when past its prime, and soaked in soup when it finally goes rock-solid.

So.  I've written up the recipe and posted it in its own page.  Early experiments show that it doesn't rise so well with wholemeal bread flour (though this flour wasn't particularly fresh), and it does rise, but more slowly, with malthouse flour.  Clearly, I need to experiment more.

Recipe: All-machine white sourdough bread

This is a recipe for white sourdough bread that I have worked out over
the last couple of months.  It allows me to make a tasty, well-risen
loaf with minimal effort and using my bread machine to do almost all the
work.

A few notes

  • I am using Carl’s sourdough starter,
    which was given to me by a friend last New Year’s Eve.  An awesome gift
    indeed.
  • This recipe makes a big loaf!  It weighs about 1 kg, or
    two pounds, when done.  It’d be pretty easy to scale back to a half or
    two thirds of these quantities, though, and I will probably do that
    myself in the future, especially since my other half doesn’t much like
    sourdough.  🙁
  • This bread doesn’t keep spectacularly well.  A bit of oil would probably help in this regard, or some powdered milk added along with the flour of the main recipe.  But it doesn’t worry me, so I don’t add it.
  • I keep a minimal quantity of sourdough starter in the fridge, which takes a day or so to work up to baking quantities.  This means you never have to throw any out, but it does mean that you can’t bake immediately.  If you start a loaf on Thursday evening, you will have fresh bread an hour after you wake on Saturday morning.  Or you could use this method continuously, by re-starting the process with your new minimal starter on Friday evening, and have more fresh bread on Sunday…
  • Lots of people say you shouldn’t use tap water for sourdough.  I do, and I haven’t had any problems.  But then, my tap water isn’t particularly heavily chlorinated.
  • By ‘flour’, in this recipe, I mean ‘strong white bread flour’.  Specifically, I’ve been using organic white bread flour from Glebe Farm for my bread, but use whatever is good (and ideally local) for you.

My bread machine

There is nothing particularly special about my bread machine, apart from the following capabilities, which make this recipe possible:

  • A dough-only cycle, which mixes ingredients, kneads the dough and lets it rise.
  • A bake-only cycle, which just turns up the heat.
  • A timer functionality, which allows me to specify when I want the selected program to end.

Feeding:

  • Evening 1: Transfer starter from the fridge to ‘feeding
    jar’ and feed with 0.5 cups of flour and 0.5 cups water.
  • Morning 2: Feed starter with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water.
  • Evening 2: Starter should now be really active and bubbly.  Feed
    with 1 cup flour and 0.5 cups water, transfer 2 tbsp to a clean storage jar,
    and transfer the rest to the bread machine bucket. 
  • Feed your reserved portion of starter 1 tbsp flour and 1 tbsp water, mix well and pop it in the fridge.
  • Go straight to the
    main recipe.

The main recipe:

Add the following to the top of your just-fed starter, but do
not
stir it in (the bread machine will do that for you in the
middle of the night…):

  • 2 cups flour;
  • 1.5 tsp salt;
  • 1.5 tsp sugar.

Set your bread machine to start its dough cycle sometime overnight,
so the dough is risen and ready to bake when you get up.  I have found
that three to four hours’ rising time is ideal for this recipe, so I set
the machine so that the dough cycle will finish around three in the
morning, ready for when I get up at around half six.  You may have to
experiment a bit to find out what works for your starter, with your
flour, in your kitchen.

When you get up, you can immediately start
the ‘bake’ cycle on the machine.  An hour or so later you will have
wonderful, fresh sourdough bread, with minimal effort.

25) How can this possibly work?

I've just read a news article which states that legislation is being passed so that it will be compulsory for all dogs in the UK to be microchipped, and that it will be mandatory for all dog owners to pay a 'third party' kind of insurance so that victims of dog attacks can be compensated.  The online BBC article (FWIW, this isn't the first article I read on the subject) states, specifically, that "Ministers say the consultation responds to concerns about the use of animals to intimidate or threaten people."

How??

How is this going to make any difference to the kinds of people that keep dogs as 'weapons'?  I can just see them queueing up to get their dogs insured and microchipped – right next to the stand where they can hand in their illegal guns and knives.

How is this going to be enforced?  They can't even make sure that all cars on the roads are insured, and I'm damn sure that they're not going to hang a registration plate off of my dogs' butts.  Also, cars don't breed.

Is it the responsibility of the bitch's owner to get the puppies chipped before they are sold?  Or the responsibility of the new owner?  At a minimum of £10 per dog, let's say 8 pups in a litter, might we not just see a lot more drowned puppies?

Speaking of – well, disposal.  Unwanted dogs are often dumped or abandoned.  But at least they are left alive.  Quite a lot are at least left, anonymously, at rescue centres.  Sad, but better than healthy dogs being killed, legally or otherwise.  Under these new rules, the owner of a dumped dog could be traced – will they be forced to take the dog back?  Or to pay for its rehoming?  If they can't afford to keep the dog, will it live?  Or will they attempt to remove the chip before dumping the dog?  Racing greyhounds have ear tattoos, so they can be permanently traced.  Unscrupulous owners who want to dispose of their dogs' corpses simply cut their ears off.  (For heaven's sake, don't Google that unless you want a really upsetting day.  It only gets worse).  Will people cut out  subcutaneous microchips, too?

The whole thing just seems crazy.  I can imagine random spot-checks from the police, wielding hand-held scanners ("Excuse me, sir, can I just scan your dog?").  Except microchips can move; I know one dog whose chip has migrated from between the shoulderblades (where it is implanted) to the skin under its throat, just by 'floating' between the tissue layers.  Are all police going to be trained in dog-scanning?  I don't want to have to go down the station on a Tuesday morning because I was walking the dogs and the local copper couldn't find a chip – I need to get to work!

What will happen to the insurance premium for a dog who was 'accused' of an attack?  What will happen to a dog who is suddenly a lot more expensive?  Should we really be able to demand that sort of compensation because we weren't watching the kid and it was taunting an elderly, arthritic terrier who had finally had enough? (One of my brothers got bitten in those circumstances.  Not badly, and no-one held any bad feelings, but if personalities had been otherwise, there could have been a very different outcome).

And whereas I agree that posties, milkmen and others who have to work on private property should be safe to carry out their business, I can't *wait* for the first burglar to demand destruction of a dog under the new 'on private property' section of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

I am all in favour of microchips.  And insurance.  Both my dogs are chipped and insured, for their protection and my peace of mind.  If they're ever lost, a chip greatly increases the chances they'll find their way back to me.  But I chose to do it.  It is my interpretation of what is good, and right, and it is all, ultimately, for the good of the dogs.

Making it illegal not to chip your dog will just add to the list of things that criminals do (or don't do).  Forcing someone to chip their dog will not increase its welfare.  I can't imagine anyone chipping a fight dog, can you?

The cruel, the vicious, the scofflaws will do what they always do, and keep it underground.

Ultimately, there is no legislation on this planet that can implant a social conscience into an individual.  Attempting to do so only makes life harder for those who follow the rules anyway.

*Taptaptap* errr… Is this thing still on??

Well, so much for a post a day in February.  Never mind, eh?
I had *the* most awesome time at Textiles In Focus, and I will definitely be going back next year.  Highlights included:

  • About half of the my local spinning group showing up, at various times, saying, “I didn’t know you did this!  Wow!!”
  • Selling out of drop spindles on the first day, and having to make more that evening.
  • Teaching a friend (Lorna!) from the knitting group to use her own, rather lovely, drop spindle.
  • Selling out of all my drop spindles for the second time whilst Lorna was grinning and squealing with delight behind the stall.
  • Being asked to teach drop spindling at TIF next year!
  • Having several people come past and tell me they’d found/been following this blog! Well hey, if you’re still here, stop by and comment!
  • The hilariously knowledgeable lady who came past on Saturday, and solemnly informed her friend that, “Of course, you can’t use these yarns for knitting with”.  WTF?!
  • Persuading Pauline, the organiser, that the unused space next to my pitch would be perfect for a sociable spinning area next year.

Speaking of comments – I owe an apology to everyone who has commented so far.  I had the configuration of this blog set up wrongly, and they’ve been disappearing into the ether.  Technically, I suppose, I really owe everyone who commented a *reply*, but that seems sort of silly after a two-week absence. Mea culpa – and I’ll try to do better in future.

Meanwhile, I suddenly realised yesterday that I haven’t dyed anything for almost a month now.  Given that my next fair is only just a month away, I’d better get moving!!  (April 18th, here we come!)

Hmm.  Given that we woke up to a hard frost again this morning, do you think we’ll want spring/summer yarns by mid April, or will we still be in the depths of winter?

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