Christmas Felted Soaps

Now that Christmas is over, it’s safe to start posting some Christmas gifts. One project that we will definitely be making again is felted soap. Little A and I made these soaps for the teachers and staff at her school.

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These soaps were felted with a combination of natural corriedale from Paradise Fibers, pink and orange merino from Opulent Fibers, and some unnamed fiber that came with the spinning wheel I purchased off of craigslist. I suspect it’s one of Ashland Bay Company’s multi-colored merino. What I love about this multi-colored merino are the stands of color surprise. The top was kind of brown but once it was separated and felted, you could see how the color was produced through the layer of multiple colors.

These rounded soaps from Sappo Hill were the perfect size for a soap felting project as it fit comfortably in our hands as we rubbed and scrubbed the fiber to make it felt.

I followed instructions from Thistlewood Farms, which comes fabulous instructive photos.

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I think some of the soaps could have been rubbed for a bit longer to make sure the fibers really locked in together. And I would certainly recommend over-doing it rather than under-doing it. I was worried with all the lathering that my soap was shrinking under the felt. It seemed that there was a lot of room between the soap and the wool and that the felt would never shrink and tighten around the soap, as described by KariAnne of Thistlewood Farm. But when it dried, it tightened nicely around the soap so I was anxious for nothing. I guess I still need to learn to trust the process.

What I would try next time is setting up two basins of water, one super and one super cold. Part of the reason that wool felts, in addition to the friction that is necessary to lock the fibers together, is a sudden shift in temperature. I am hoping that in putting the wool-covered soap in the hot and then cold basins back and forth for a few times, this would cut down on the scrubbing that was necessary to felt the fiber. That scrubbing was the most tedious, and Little A grew tired of that quickly so I had to pick up the slack! Aside from that, this was the perfect project for us to do together!

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The family that paints together…

Recently, our apartment complex organized one of those drinking and painting parties that have become so popular.

V thought it would be fun to do it and signed us up. However, being totally clueless about what it entailed, we only signed up for one easel between the three of us. It worked out in the end as we realized it was best if we divided up the fun.

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Little A was the designated painter.

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Dad did the drinking.

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Mom volunteered to do the eating. Little A is not sure about this division of labor.

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The result of our collective effort.

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Little A and her fellow Pinot’s Palette painters.

 

Homemade glue

Maybe it’s because of attachment parenting. Maybe it’s because she’s five. Maybe it’s because she’s an only child. Maybe it’s because that’s just who she is. Whatever the reasons, rarely a minute goes by without Little A calling, “Mamamamamama” and needing some attention.

Yesterday she was sick at home, and for a brief spell, she was in the living room, entertaining herself by drawing little rabbits on newspaper and cutting them out. I was in the bedroom, absorbed in the delicate unraveling of a cowl knitted with SweetGeorgia’s Silk Mist.  “Mama,” she called out from the other room. “We’re out of glue.” The “little” error I was trying to fix was threatening to become a catastrophe, my fingers untrained for the surgical precision and skill needed to untangle cobwebs. I tried to brush her off.  “We’ll get some next time we go out.”

I had knitted many rows of this Welted Cowl, but somehow I miscounted the rows, alternating four rows of reverse stockinette instead of five. Even though this is a gift and I won’t have to see the mistake, the perfectionist in me would wince every time I thought of it.

The next thing I knew, Little A was in the doorway. “Mama, I just found a video that teaches us how to make glue.” I followed her out of the bedroom, and lo and behold, she had gone to the computer and Googled “how to make glue.”

Parenting can be mind-numbingly boring, but it can also lead you out of the habituated boredom of your own thoughts. As someone who tries to live simply and to make instead of buy, it never dawned on me to make my own glue. But this little girl of mine, who is always tugging and pulling on me, understood better than me, the sychronized rhythms of our beating hearts.

When I was little, there was always a cooked pot of rice ready to be served. Whenever she needed to glue paper, my mother would scoop out a little bit of rice, mash it between her thumb and middle finger, then spread it on the spots she wanted to bond.  I had forgotten about that until now.

I put my tangled project down, and we went to the kitchen to cook up some glue.

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Missing from the recipe: Cook on stove for two minutes while stirring.

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Homemade glue. A grain of rice. Smiling rabbits holding hands.

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Knitting is better than smoking

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I went to college in the late 80s in Montreal. It seemed that everyone smoked, and I remember taking my first puffs in the hallway of my dorm. When I went to graduate school, I became a chain smoker. Smoking became an inseparable part of my dissertation writing, providing an outlet for the stress, fear and self-loathing that graduate school often produces.

I finally kicked the habit in my late 30s.  Now, as I tear my hair out writing the book that will revolutionize my field (ha!), instead of a smoke break, I take a knit break.

You may think that comparing knitting and smoking is like setting up a straw man argument, analogous to weighing the pros and cons of knitting and being torn apart by a pack of wild dogs. Of course knitting is going to come out on top. While it might be due to my lack of imagination that I’m unable to find parallels between making something with your hands and losing your hands (legs, arms, head and other body parts), it does not require a lot of brain power to see that knitting and smoking serve similar needs and functions:

  • Like smoking, knitting gives me something to do with my hands when I’m feeling awkward in a new social situation.
  • Like smoking, knitting is addictive. How many times have I said, “Just one more row and then I’ll stop”?
  • Like smoking, knitting is visceral and tactile.
  • Like smoking, knitting fuels my creative juices.
  • Like smoking, I get the same high when I first cast on as I do when I first light up.
  • Like smoking, I spend way to much money on this habit.
  • Like smoking, I knit after sex.

Why knitting is better than smoking:

  • Knitting is better for your health than smoking.
  • Knitting does not create second-hand smoke, though it can produce random bits of fluff and fiber throughout the house.
  • Knitting is allowed in restaurants, cafes and bars.
  • Knitting is something you want to teach your children.
  • Knitting is more socially acceptable, though knitting at a cocktail party is not quite as cool.

So yes, knitting does beat smoking. But, it’s not a total blow out.

Stay tuned for my next post:  Why spinning is better than drinking.  Just kidding. Nothing is better than drinking.

Percentage Dyeing

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I’ve been meaning to post about one of the first things I did when we arrived in San Antonio–take a percentage dyeing class with the amazing textile artist, quilter and all-around wonderful teacher, Kim Eichler-Messmer. Her work is phenomenal, and what’s more, she is coming out with a new book on dyeing for quilting this November.  The class was offered as part of the biennial Surface Design Association Conference, and this year, it just happened to take place in San Antonio a couple of days after we arrived. I took this as a sign that I was meant to be there, and it was one of the best classes I have ever taken.

Percentage dyeing is a precise, mathematical way of dyeing that allows you to create color recipes that you can then reproduce. It allows you to understand the relationship between different colors and how to quantify the slightest shift in hue and tone. When I tell people about this class, they sometimes just laugh and say, “Why would I want to reproduce a color I just made? I want to try something new! And, isn’t the point about creativity the process of play and exploration?” It’s true. There is a lot of measuring in this class, and you do some math. Maybe it’s the nerd in me, but I love this kind of stuff! I love to know how colors come together. I love being able to track how the different percentages and ratios of water, stock solution and fiber come together to give me the particular gradation I want. I may not want to reproduce some of the colors I made, but I want to know that I can if I need to. There is something incredibly empowering about that.

The top photo is a sampling of my color explorations. The assignment was to choose a series of colors from color chips that you find at a paint store and to reproduce them. I wasn’t able to match them exactly, but I got pretty close.

I came away from this four-day class with a book of color recipes. It is my book of magic potions. This is all part of my eventual plan to start dyeing my own fibers. There. I said it. Now it’s real.

In our own backyard…

…when we lived in Portland!

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Why didn’t I know about Wildcraft Studio School when we still lived in Portland?! It features so many of the kinds of classes I want to take: dyeing with natural dyes and working with your garden to achieve it.  In addition, they offer classes on the medicinal possibilities of plants as well as screen printing and other art classes. These classes sound amazing, and I can’t wait to take classes when we return to Oregon.