Body Maintenance, House Improvement

A few months back I went to the optometrist to see if I needed new glasses, because my vision in my left eye was getting a bit fuzzy. Turns out what was a faint milkiness a few years back was now a cataract. The optometrist said I wouldn’t be able to get it fixed until my right eye was as bad.

Since that would mean I couldn’t drive safely, I decided last week to see an eye surgeon. He confirmed the diagnosis and said the one in my other eye would probably be as bad in six months so I may as well get them both done now. I’ve been researching different kinds of lenses and considering when the best time is to have the surgery.

Gosh, I’m glad I live in an age where I won’t be blind in a year or two!

When I got the referral for the eye surgeon, I also got one for a hand therapist. My RSI returned six weeks or so ago, when I attempted to knit a small strip of garter stitch. Though I only did a tiny bit of knitting, the pain hasn’t gone away. It’s different this time, too, affecting both of my hands and all of my hands plus wrists. I hadn’t even started work again when it began, so that can’t be the cause.

So yes, I’ve resumed writing. My six month break finished at the end of July. I’m easing into it, doing an hour or two a day, which gets a chapter done a week. I can get a first draft done in a year at that rate, though I’d need (and have) another six months to cut and polish it.

The rest of the time I’m continuing back-strengthening exercise and tackling a new domestic challenge. We learned that we might finally be able to connect to the new sewer system in a few weeks. There’ll be a whole lot of other jobs relating to it that need attending to: tree removal permit application, tree removal, the sewer connection itself, repairing the driveway (the septic tank is under it), finishing the drainage and electricity for the garage (which will go under the driveway at the same time) and planting the screening trees the garage permit required.

I doubt we’ll get it all done this year. Planting the trees should be done in Autumn anyway, to give them as much time to establish as I can before the following summer heat and dryness.

Getting old never stops. Neither does work around the house. But the cataract surgery might mean I don’t have to wear glasses any more, and the driveway and garden will look a lot better when they’re finished.

Tapestry Bag

Remember when I bought some big batches of canvas tapestry thread on ebay? Well, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It was quite a while ago.

In it was a small collection of Beehive tapestry thread, but it was so old each skein had fulled to itself. It was too far gone to stitch with so I decided to weave it. I cut all the thread into shorter lengths then fused the ends together by wetting with soapy water and rubbing between my palms. This gave me three shuttles worth of weft. I wove this on the Knitters Loom with a firm beat to make a weft-faced cloth.

Once off the loom I found it was a good thickness for a bag, but simply folding it in half made for a rather boring one. I started folding on the bias, and found the result much more appealing. I’ve seen bags folded so that they formed a square with a triangle missing so I tried that, and I had just enough material to do it.

I’m not a fan of bags that don’t close, however, but I couldn’t see how I could easily add a zip to this design. After a lot of thinking the answer came like a bolt of lightening – a bag within the bag!

I found a silver belt in an op shop to make a handle out of, and when I went looking for some leather to make the inner bag from I found some in the same shade of silver, the right thickness and on sale! I bought some matching lining and a zip and got sewing.

It all came together easily until I got to attaching the handle. Where the buckle had been sewn onto the belt the leather was splitting. If I sewed the handles to the bag (and reattached the buckle) the same thing would happen. Rivets would be better. But do you think I could find any at the right size? The fruitless search for suitable rivets has put this project on hold for months. Last week I gave up. I cut the holes for the rivets anyway, then sewed everything with thread.

Perhaps I will stumble on the right sized rivets in future. For now, I have a useable bag.

Which I love!

Plaited Twill Scarf

This was yet another leftovers-using project, this time to use up the orange yarn I dyed for the overshot sampler I did last year. These batches picked up black dye from the pot I had used previously in a failed attempt to dye some stained polyester pants. I couldn’t scrub the residue off the pot, yet it came off on the yarn as a greyish shadow. The pot went into the rubbish afterwards, which was a shame, as it was a good sized dying pot.

Since the shadowing wasn’t uniform, I mixed the orange threads among twice as many in the ‘dusky rose’ colour of in the same yarn. I’ve been liking the dividing stripe effect of the last few scarves I’ve woven, so I added some in ‘raffia’ too. Then I chose ‘almond’, a slightly off-white, for the weft.

It was MUCH easier to warp the loom this time as I wasn’t working with already cut ends and therefore no cross. I could use my warping board to wind and tie everything neatly, with one exception: because I wanted to mix the orange with the pink I wound three threads together – one orange and two pink – and that meant the cross wasn’t of alternate single threads but sets of three. This allowed me to move the orange thread of each trio around when threading so the mix was more random than simply orange-pink-pink and I didn’t get two orange threads next to each other.

Like with the Scarf of Leftover Colours, having eight pedals meant I could arrange the tie up so I could simply move from left to right. Then I got weaving.

Oh my. I may have fallen in love with plaited twill. It’s so pretty!

These are not my usual wearing colours. Either I’m going to have to revise that opinion, find someone dear to me who does wear them, or weave another plaited twill scarf. I’m thinking the latter.

I have other plans for the floor loom’s next project, so that’ll have to wait. On the Katie, I put another leftovers warp on, using up some burgundy warp. I found a draft I liked by entering “weaving drafts” in google images. I started with a blue weft, but didn’t like it, so I tried cream and it’s much better.

However, it wasn’t looking like it was supposed to. I realised I was making several mistakes: I should be working from the bottom to the top, the black squares for the tie up should be for shafts in the down position and not up, and I had missed four picks of the sequence in each repeat.

But I liked what I’d done, so I just made a new draft that looked like the result I had and called it ‘falling feathers’.

The other mistake I made was that, when I measured the warp, I cut sixteen threads for each stripe, when the pattern repeat actually uses 14. So now I have another small pile of leftover warp to use up.

Scarf. Jacket. Scarfjacket?

Way back when winter was approaching I did my usual scarf, hat and glove swap: that is, take the summer-weight items off the hanger on the back of the coat cupboard door and choose the winter-weight ones to replace them. At the same time I culled a few things.

A couple of knitted scarves were frogged, since I never wear them and the yarn is so nice I will enjoy weaving something instead. One scarf went into the refashion ‘pile’. I knit it during my 2005 trip to the UK, buying a ball of yarn at each location we stayed at and knitting until I bought the next. When we got home I repeated all the stripes to use up the yarn, and wound up with a very long scarf.

(I’m amazed I found a pic of it, since it was knit before I started this blog!)

Very long scarves were in fashion back then but eventually that went the way that all fashions do, which left me with a scarf that was really too long to be practical. It’s been sitting, rolled up, in my wardrobe for years.

I could have shortened it, but other ideas were percolating in my head. The first was to separate it into four pieces and sew them together to make a squarish tv-watching lap rug. Then I’d use it practically every night in the colder months. Trouble is, I have plenty of knee rugs already.

Then I had the idea of incorporating it into a long jacket, so I draped it over my dress form and began playing. My first design involved separating the scarf into two, draping the pieces over the shoulders and filling in the gaps between with narrow garter stitch strips. I could then machine knitting two stocking stitch sleeves. The Bond Sweater Machine only does stocking stitch so I started knitting the garter stitch strips by hand. I cast on 20 stitches and did 20 rows a night for three nights, which was about 30 minutes a night.

By then my hands were really hurting. They still are weeks later. There really is no going back from RSI – at least RSI as bad as I had/have it.

Accepting that I would never be able to knit the strips, I came up with another design. This one used half of the scarf as a collar, a quarter of it around the waist and the two eighths as cuffs. The rest would be done in stocking stitch on the Bond.

I found a free pattern to adapt and bought some yarn from Bendigo Woollen Mills and, when it arrived, set up the Mega Bond and began making the back, which was in one piece. As I worked, I decided that I would make the whole garment, minus the collar, then when finished I’d separate the waist section and shorten the cuffs ready for the scarf inserts.

But as I worked I realised that the way the collar would sit would show the colour joins on the back side of the garter stitch. I could fold it in half along the length, but that would make it skinnier than the collar in the pattern and perhaps not meet in the middle.

But what if I used both halves of the scarf as a collar and doubled them up? I draped them both on the dress form and instantly loved the way the colours lined up. So instead of cutting the scarf up further, I just attached the two pieces:

I’m pretty happy with how my new jacket turned out. It’s casual and warm, and full of happy memories.

More Loom Tweaks

Having had success modifying the Katie Loom, I turned my attention to the floor loom.

Problem 1: I’m too tall for the loom as it was built, so when my top half was in the right position, my knees were bent at 90 degrees and I couldn’t put my weight on the pedals. Also, my knees pushed up against the apron when I changed pedals.

Problem 2: There was nowhere to put my non-working foot when I was pressing a pedal except on either side of the eight pedals, so I was always straddling them and it made my hips ache. If I sat back far enough to rest my feet on the front ends of the pedals my top half was too far away from the beater to weave comfortably.

Solution: Raise the loom by putting it on planks of wood, and move the pedals to the underside of the supporting beam so they’re further away and I can rest my non-working foot on it.

I got stuck into removing the pedals before I took a photo, so here’s a pic from when I first put the loom together:

Paul and I played around with the position of the pedals until we had one where they were underneath the crossbeam and still had room to move. It meant drilling a new hole in the edge supports, but that was the only permanent modification.

This was MUCH more comfortable, as not only are the pedals now low enough that I can put my weight behind pushing them down, but I can brace my non-working foot on the crossbeam. My knees no longer push against the apron, too.

However, because front of the pedals are now lower than ends when they’re in the down position, they’re also at a greater angle when pressed. The shafts didn’t rise evenly with the chains I was using for the tie-up. I replace them with texsolv (after this pic was taken) as it is more easily adjusted. The up side to the change is the loom is a little quieter to operate now.

This all happened in the middle of weaving another leftover yarn scarf. I chose a plaited twill from an issue of Heddlecraft:

These are not my colours, but I love them. They put me in mind of a spring flower garden, though maybe that’s just because I’m longing for an easing of what seems a very chilly winter.

Katie Loom Fix

During the weaving workshop students from other classes would occasionally ask if they could come in and look at what we were doing. One duo looked at my loom and said “this is a really expensive loom, isn’t it?”. I told her how much it cost and then admitted I would advise against buying it, and explained why.

While I love so much about the Katie Loom, there is one shortcoming that renders it a loom only suitable for sampling or making very small projects. The cloth beam at the front is so close to the front beam, that the accumulating woven fabric around it soon meets the front beam and you have to cut it off to continue. It also begins to restrict how far forward the beater can swing, giving you a decreasing area in which to weave, and a narrowing fell. Depending on the thickness of the yarn you’re using, you could end up only being able to weave a metre of cloth.

It seems like compromises were made in order to keep the loom small and light. I’ve considered how the loom could be better designed many times, and it didn’t seem like much weight and extra depth would be added to it in order to allow a longer warp.

Having discussed ideas with Kay, I decided I was going to ‘fix’ the loom when I got home. I measured the loom and drew up plans, comparing different approaches that would gain more room for the front cloth beam.

Simply replacing the front beam with a dowel is a small change that would make a reasonable difference, and what I’d recommend for other Katie owners. This will make it much harder to put a raddle on the front of the loom but, as Kay had pointed out, a raddle ought to be as close as possible to the beam the warp is being wound upon – which is the back beam no matter whether you warp front to back or back to front. So if you want an improvement to your Katie, a simple change from the flat front beam to a broomstick-size dowel is an easy fix.

However, I wanted to try to make even more space for woven cloth, and that meant moving the cloth beam lower. I’ve considered moving it to new version of the ‘legs’ that swivel down to support the loom, but that would mean cutting the cloth beam shorter which would involve some tricky woodwork. I’ve considered attaching pieces to the underside of the existing arms to hold the cloth beam, but when I realised that was going to be as involved as simply creating new arms entirely I put that side aside.

New arms would add weight and depth to the loom, but I was prepared to live with that for the sake of being able to make a whole scarf on my only eight shaft loom.

First I carefully dismantled the front of the loom. The scariest part was removing the knob and ratchet – they are two pieces but it’s not obvious. The ratchet piece is screwed into the beam, and the outer knob slots tightly into the ratchet. It’s the part most likely to break when taking the loom apart. Don’t try this unless you’re prepared to break it and have to order replacement parts.

I managed to separate it without damaging anything, fortunately. Next I traced an existing arm, then brought out a math-a-mat, french curves and paper and got to work designing arms that would lower the cloth beam without compromising the function of the ratchet and pirns. When I was satisfied with my new design, I copied it onto tracing paper and held it up to the existing arms. To my surprise, they would only add about 2 cm to the depth of the loom.

A trip to Bunnings for some Tasmanian Oak (Ashford Looms are made of Silver Beech and a quick google didn’t show any easily accessible sources in Melbourne), some assistance from Paul with power tools, and a bit of sanding and varnishing later…

My modified Katie weighs only 44 grams more than the original loom. It’s about 2 cm deeper, and still fits in the bag the loom came in.

I’ve yet to test how long a warp I can weave on it, which really depends on the thickness of the yarn used anyway, but I’ve increased the space for the front cloth beam from 53 mm to 78 mm so that’s 25 mm more cloth thickness I can wind on before I run out of space.

I’ll be trying out a longer warp soon, but the first thing I did was retie the sampler warp and weave the last of it, going through variations of summer and winter I learned in the workshop. I got a small length of fabric with pockets big enough to fit my stick shuttles, so it became a little shuttle storer:

I found that I can’t weave close to the front beam, as the beater doesn’t swing that far. That made me think about replacing the sides the beater hangs off so that it has a couple of positions from which to swing… which would be do-able but I think this is enough loom tweaking for now!

Sold!

As I mentioned earlier, at the FibreArts schools they have two charity auctions for which you can donate artworks of 15 x 15 cm and 10 x 10 cm. I was stitching figures from an old book on line drawing for architectural elevations. This is the piece I did for the 10 x 10 ironed and mounted on card:

I finished the first of the two rows of men and women in bathing suits (or underwear), but by then I badly wanted to keep them both. So I went looking for something else to do for the 15 x 15 in the time left. I looked through finished piece of embroidery and among them was the rather boring grey bargello sampler.

It just happened to be very close to 15 x 15. I got thinking on how could I make this something that someone might want to buy. The design looked like mountains. Perhaps I could stitch on some mountain climbers. Or skiers. Or both…

I almost decided to keep it, too, but I made myself let it go. And I’m glad I did as the friend who told me about FibreArts, Jane, was delighted when she managed to buy it. The architectural figures went to Jillian in my class, who almost lost out but for the generosity of another FibreArts attendee who heard her lamenting that she’d missed out and let her buy it instead.

Selling both was a nice surprise. I really had no idea if the school attendees would like this sort of thing, but it turned out they did very much – especially the four figures. I know what to make next time!

Weaving in Ballarat

A few weeks back I headed to Ballarat to attend the FibreArts Winter School @ Ballarat I mentioned a few post back.

It being my first one, I was given a ‘duckling’ card to pin next to my name card to alert others that I might need guidance, but my friend, Jane, had told me almost everything I needed to know. The workshop I did was Kay Faulkner’s ‘Play +1’ weaving class, which was challenging and definitely fulfilled my aim of learning something new.

I picked doubleweave as my main structure and summer and winter as the +1 element, but we went way beyond those two options, including a bit of basketweave, hand-manipulated weave (leno, in my case), replacing warp ends with new colours, adding a supplementary warp or weft, tying on a dowel as an extra shaft at the front or the back. By the end I had quite a few extra ends weighted at the back of my loom.

I finished up with a sampler using many kinds of combinations. As I said to Kay, her class should be more truthfully called ‘Play + Ninety Billionty’.

The other weavers, Di, Jeanette, Jillian, Elizabeth and Michael made up an inspiring group, each trying different main and additional structures.

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There was a lot of mutual cursing at mistakes or loom problems, and excitement at the result of our experimenting.

The Winter School was held at Ballarat Grammar. I took the single residential package, with all meals and access to tutor talks included. The room was comfortable (student rooms vacated for the holidays), the food reasonable (the sticky date pudding was delicious!) and the location was conveniently across the road from a supermarket (and five op shops!). I managed to see all but one talk, and they ranged from interesting to inspiring.

I’d like to attend a School again. There’s a workshop that I’m kinda interested in at each of the three next Schools at Ballarat, but I’m hesitating because I’m not sure how well I’d fit them into my schedule once I start writing again. None are weaving workshops, for which I’d probably book and go regardless. And having tried two new hobbies this year, I don’t really need any more taking up my spare time. At least, not for a while!

A Proper Holiday

A few weeks back we went to Central Australia for a fortnight. We’d chosen the destination because: a) I wanted a proper holiday not sightseeing tacked onto a work trip, b) we wanted to see the Field of Lights, and c) travelling locally appealed more than venturing into an increasingly crazy world.

Since we don’t enjoy hot weather, timing it for winter seemed wise. It was colder than I expected, though. While it was 19 – 22 degrees during the day, it took a while to get there when it was windy or shady there was a definite chill in the air. Still, I’d rather that than 46 degrees in mid-summer!

Because my back can’t cope with long hours in a car, we flew there rather than drive, and took ‘hop on hop off’ and tour buses to Uluru, Kata Tjuta, King’s Canyon Resort and the canyon itself, then to Alice Springs. Once in Alice we hired a car to explore the MacDonnell Ranges.

It was a great little trip and though we never restricted our meal choices all the walking meant that, for once, I returned lighter than I left. As I said to Paul, we could eat whatever we wanted normally so long as we did this much exercise… which simply isn’t possible when you have to spend time working.

I always do a bit of sketching when on holidays – just some watercolour and ink in a book. This time I wanted to get a bit more serious. What I really wanted to do was take my portable oil painting box. However, it’s made of wood and we were doing to be doing a lot of walking. There were also the issues of not being able to take turps on a plane, and oils needing a long time to dry.

To deal with the weight issue, I hit on the idea of using unstretched canvas you can buy in pads rather than boards. I went shopping for a plastic container, and found the perfect one in Daiso, with a compartment the right size for brushes and spatula, and room in the lid (once I’d carved the compartment dividers flat) to hold a painting in place without it touching anything. It just required a piece of card to support the painting, and two cable clips to keep it in place.

The turps and drying time problem was solved when I had a brainwave and remembered that you can get water-soluble oil paints. No need for turps, and they dry faster – and even more rapidly if you use “fast drying medium”.

When everying arrived from Senior’s Art, I squeezed paint into a pill dispenser (also from Daiso) that just happened to fit into one of the smaller compartments, and decanted some of the medium into a squeezy bottle from my silk painting days.

Here’s the complete kit:

For a palette I took a pad of tracing paper that fit into the other small compartment, thinking I’d just rip off a page when I’d finished a painting. This was the major failing of the kit. I simply didn’t have enough room to mix the colours I needed. Eventually I replaced it with a fast food container lit about the same size as the kit, and painting instantly became much easier.

The first painting was quite simple, to allow me to get used to a newish medium and the local light and colours. I wasn’t all that happy with a painting until I got to the fourth, and I realised that if I was to do a trip with the sole intention of painting I needed to allow myself time to familiarise myself with a location.

I’d also take a seat or at least a pillow. A sunhat is not barrier enough between my butt and icy cold rocks at 7:30 in the morning!

I could have done another painting on the last day of the trip, but I decided not to because I was too tired, and a little tired of painting to be honest. Overall I enjoyed the challenge and I’m glad I did it, and happy my lightweight painting kit performed so well. It would be great to take it on more holidays, or on day trips.

Which will probably be within Australia. It was so nice not to have to deal with long flights, jet lag, customs and security queues, adapting to very different languages and customs, carrying passports and power point adaptors. I’m keen to organise another trip, and see more of this great country.

I’d Do It Differently (and Better)!

I’ve not read many biographies in my life, but one of the few I have is an art book on Van Gogh. Such an interesting man, who had a beautiful way with words as well as a great love of experimentation and expression in art. So I was looking forward to going to the Van Gogh: the Seasons exhibition at the NGV.

I didn’t get there until the Wednesday before the end of the school holidays, and it was full of people rushing to see it before the holidays and school groups keeping the kids occupied during the last week of term. Even so, I don’t think the timing make a lot of difference. I’d heard about the long queues since the day it opened, and doubt there was ever going to be a quiet day.

We bought out tickets online, so at least we missed that queue, and we probably waited half and hour to 45 mins to get in. It was what it was like after we entered that really appalled me. It had to be the worst laid out exhibition I’ve ever been to, here and overseas – and I’ve seen some pretty badly designed ones. It seemed designed to have people cross paths constantly, squish them together in front of paintings, and be unable to see signage unless they stood right in front of it. And this was so much worse for people in wheelchairs.

It would have been a struggle with half the amount of people in there, but to make things worse they were letting so many people in it was uncomfortably crowded. Afterwards I got to wondering if I was just bothered by being around so many people, and I realised it wasn’t only that, but it felt dangerous to be in there. Maybe they had an effective evacuation plan, but the general impression of incompetence with floor layout didn’t inspire confidence.

When we got to the end, Paul asked if I wanted to go back and have another look at anything. I looked around and decided that, while I might have ordinarily, I just wanted to get out. So we emerged into the gift shop. Where I bought these:

Why buy two bags? Well, they were only $10 each. As I said before, Vincent had a great way with words as well as with the paintbrush. One bag had quotes, the other two had artwork. Which to choose?

No. I will not choose. I will have the best of both worlds! I cut them apart and brought out the sewing machine.

I’m going to use the tote bag to carry my mat and easel into classes rather than juggling them, and the satchel (lined with the back of the painting bag) is a gift for the teacher.