Posted in sewing by tchemgrrl on October 26, 2012

Husband saw yesterday’s post and thinks I should seek out some naughty cowboy fabric for gift bags to spice up the family holidays.

(Why do I tell him things.)


The C word (or the Ch word)

Posted in planning, sewing by tchemgrrl on October 25, 2012

I know, I know. You hate when the holidays show up before their time. “It’s not even Halloween yet and I heard Jingle Bells at the mall yesterday!” I don’t particularly want to see any jolly old elves before the leaves are off the trees, either.

But! But.

That doesn’t mean I’m not already getting stuff ready. There is gift knitting, there is wish list checking, there are General Preparations Happening. Most of that stuff I won’t show you until January, but I figured I would show you the wrappings I’m working on.

One of the ways I’m trying to reduce waste is by making fabric wraps for gifts vs. using paper that gets tossed.

The Japanese have a long history of doing this. The furoshiki–large squares of beautifully-printed fabric–that were traditionally used can be folded in a huge variety of ways to accomodate various package shapes*. And my understanding from my readings is that the cloth itself was considered part of the gift, but a regiftable one, so that the wrapping could be reused for another present. It’s a nice way of being environmentally conscious without having too much dirty-hippie about it.

*Note to self: Write more about furoshiki some time, because even having some basic abilities is one of those handy life-hacky skills that I think everyone should have.

I do occasionally wrap a gift in a single square cloth, but it seems a little….harder to interpret? By which I mean that people aren’t sure how to unwrap it, and if they should give the cloth back, because they’re not sure how to use it if they do keep it. I did have success last year wrapping a gift basket for my mom in a large vintage tablecloth (it looked like Santa’s sack, it was perfect), but that worked because she likes vintage tablecloths and it was clearly part of the present.

Usually, I make fabric gift bags. I’ll admit that my interpretation is Westernizing it a bit, but a gift bag is a form factor that we regularly see in the States, and we know how how they interface with the social contract. And the fabric gift bags hold up to more regiving than paper ones do.

For fabric, I rarely buy new. Most often, I go to Sew Green, which is my amazing local sewing supply resale shop. They’ve always got stacks of fat quarters and other squared-off remnants for a song. I just pick a few in cheerful colors, or with amusing prints, when I stop by there. Thrift shops often have a little craft area too, though the selection is usually less. Sometimes I’ll get a fat quarter or remnant from the local fabric shop, too, because they’re really nice and I want them to stay in business even though I’m not much of a seamstress. (And that $2 square of fabric is totally going to do that.)

My sewing skills are slovenly at best. I’ve been using a sewing machine since I was pretty small–longer than I’ve been doing any other craft–but I hate ironing, and I like flying by the seat of my pants. My finished products barely reach the “rough draft” level compared to my family members’ work. Gift bags, though? Little mostly-square things in fun fabrics that won’t see much wear? They’re right at my level. Churning out a bunch of different little gift bags is pretty much the perfect project for me. Instant gratification, very little piecing or worrying about seam perfection. I sewed all the bags below during one toddler nap. I didn’t use a single pin. Boo-yah.

Christmas bags

The two largest have drawstring tops, the rest don’t. For those without, I’ll just tie a ribbon around the top to close it off, or fold the top over and wrap a ribbon around the whole thing. I tacked the corners down on a few of them to make the bags sit flat on the ground, and to more easily accommodate a boxy object. Depending on what goes into them, I may sew handles on later if seems necessary. None of these have specific gifts in mind, but the four small ones are the perfect size for a mass-market paperback, and we’re a book giving family.

The fabrics are all cotton calicos; the largest one has flowers and their latin names, the second-largest has a small vegetable print on it, and the bright yellow fabric is this adorable vintage-looking fabric with a “Laundry Day” theme–soap and bubbles and washboards and things. I think I need some more kid-friendly fabrics, and will keep that in mind the next time I’m out looking.

Apple Butter

Posted in food, toddler, Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on October 12, 2012

A few weekends ago, we stopped at the Cornell orchard store after deciding that the weather was too poor to apple picking but *perfect* for apple cooking. So we skipped the picking entirely, picked up three big bags of early apples, and spent the weekend surrounded by the smell of cinnamon, making double batches of apple muffins and cake and apple butter (apparently I’m not the only local thinking of apple butter right now!)

Everyone pitched in:

Don't ask me.

(Putting apples in a cat bed is an Absolutely Necessary step in cooking them, right?)

I got one of those old fashioned apple peelers last year for just this purpose, and prepping apples has never been so easy and fun. Even the toddler peeled a few, when he wasn’t doing his darnedest to eat the apples faster than I could cut them.

The muffins were a recipe from a Moosewood cookbook we have, the apple cake was the standard Better Homes and Gardens recipe (actually it was the “apple bread” recipe, but I sprinkled sugar and cinnamon on top and come on. It’s cake. It’s not fooling anyone.) I made the apple butter in my usual slapdash way–calling it a recipe seems silly, but here’s my general technique.

Peel and core a truckload of apples, about half again what would fit into your crock pot. Two of those paper sacks they sell in the grocery store or farmer’s markets this time of year should be enough with extras. (We bought three big bags and had about half a bag left over after the weekend was through.) My peeler slices the apples into these amazing spirals, but before I had the fancy peeler, I’d quarter the apples. Doesn’t need to be too precise, as they’re all getting cooked to a fare-thee-well.

Into your crock pot, put as many apples as will fit, about a cup of water, cider, orange juice, or watered down lemon juice, a thumb-sized knob of ginger, and maybe a teaspoon of cinnamon. (I usually add more cinnamon or other spices to taste later on when I have a better sense of how a particular batch tastes, so for now it’s just there to make the house smell amazing.) Put the extra apples in the fridge. Turn the crock pot on to low, if you have that option, and go do something else for a few hours. Stir it once in a while if you’re nearby to help smoosh the cooking apple pieces. After a few hours, you’ll have applesauce that takes up about 3/4 of the pot. (If you wanted applesauce you could stop here. I have pulled some out and made potato pancakes some years.) When there’s space, add some of those extra chopped apples until it’s full again.

Leave it overnight. If you wake up at some point in the night, stop downstairs to peek.

In the morning, add the rest of the apples. Let everything cook, stirring every so often, until it’s got a smooth dark unwatery look.

Taste. Add citrus or sweetener or spice as needed. This time around I used a little nutmeg and about a quarter cup of local maple syrup, and it had over-evaporated so I added a little water.

Can or freeze or eat in one sitting. Wait, not that last one; I’m not sure I want to be responsible for someone eating 30 apples in a go.


We ended up with about 12 jars. Mostly 8 ounce, a couple of 4’s. Two of them will be “extra spicy” variants, I put all the ginger chunks into them, and I’m really curious how they’ll come out. As always happens while canning, I burned the ever-loving craparoonie out of my hand, but I’m pleased with how much we got this year. In previous years, the number of apples used has largely depended on how many apples I could chop and peel before my hands got tired, and the new peeler got rid of that problem.

Jacob Yarn

Posted in handspun, spinning by tchemgrrl on October 8, 2012

I got my current spinning wheel, a long-in-the-tooth Schact Matchless, a few years ago. At the time, I had a minor issue with sticky bobbins that made it irritating to work on in Scotch tension mode (the Matchless can be used with any tensioning setup, which is one of the reasons I was particularly interested in it.) In double drive, it worked perfectly well, so I kept it in that mode for a few years.

I had new bobbins, had reamed out the old ones so that they worked too, and I finally got a hold of the fishing line I wanted for tensioning thanks for a coworker who fishes. Time to switch back to Scotch. I started with some very nice Jacob roving from a local farm called Spot Hollow, which I’d visited with friends a while back.

Spot Hollow

Aaahhh. The combination of familiar fiber and my preferred Scotch tension setup was a dream. The singles just flew onto the bobbin, and my spinning looks measurably better to me.


3-ply, 8 ounces, 300 yards. Pretty chunky stuff, and darn cozy looking.


I wasn’t in a bobbin-swapping mood, so I split the white and gray into 3 equal pieces, and when I reached the end of the first third of white fiber, I switched to the gray. The Matchless bobbins were just big enough to hold that amount. As a result, there’s a little section between the white and gray yarn that has a transition between the two. When it comes time to knitting this up I’ll either keep that as a design element or toss that yardage and use it for tying skeins later.

This yarn will be a warm earflapped hat for my husband.

Of Limited Interest

Posted in FAQs, handspun, Organization, spinning by tchemgrrl on October 4, 2012

People who will want to read this: People who want tons of information on buying a first spinning wheel, regular posters to the general spinning groups on Ravelry, people who like linksplosions. Everyone else: You might get bored. Fair warning.

Update 2/12/2013 to add some more links I’ve found.

There is a frequently asked question on all of the Ravelry spinning groups: “I want to buy a wheel, what’s the best choice for me?”

This comes up particularly often in the Beginning Spinners group, but really, every spinning group and some of the general tools groups see it once in a while. A few months ago I started to collect these threads, so that I could direct new spinners to a bunch of other conversations to add to their data pile. This entry is the result. I’ll probably be adding to it off and on, as new threads show up. There are some groupings and some thread descriptions, so you don’t have to completely click at random.

All the threads and links are to non-commercial sources and groups, as far as I know (in other words, none of the Rav threads are from groups who are fans of one specific wheel). I wanted to avoid steering people in any particular direction, particularly because I’m only a member of groups on wheels I’m interested in, so it’d skew the information a bit.

Non-Rav links:

Abby Franquemont’s recommendations for choosing a first spinning wheel are frequently cited in the Ravelry threads, and for good reason. It’s a really good starting place.

An entry I wrote on getting started spinning. I don’t talk too much about wheels except to link Abby’s entry, but if you’ve never spun on a wheel, you might also be wondering what fiber to start with or where to shop for supplies. That might help.

This is a pdf of a spinning wheel comparison chart from a 2009 issue of Spin Off, which is now slightly outdated and which missed a few of the then-current makers like the Frickes, but which did attempt to collect every mass manufacturer’s wheel that was in current production with info like price, ratios, and weight. Drop me a line if you find a more current one.

Particularly useful Rav threads, roughly grouped by initial topic and likelihood of usefulness:

The new centralized thread in Beginning Spinners for people to talk about choosing a first wheel. Future threads in this group should be redirected here.

This epic compendium is located in the Spindlers group, but still has lots of good stuff for an aspiring wheel spinner, including how to decide between starting on a spindle and wheel.

Raw newbies, and/or threads without a lot of specifics: Want to get a wheel, no idea where to start. What wheel do people recommend to start with? “What’s the best, most affordable first wheel?” Non spinner looking for a compact wheel. Somewhat short thread. Tried and true wheel easiest for a beginner to learn on? This person ended up with a Schacht Ladybug. Beginning spindle spinner looking at wheels. Thinking about a Louet. Trying to figure out how to choose. Another one.

In what ways is a wheel better than a drop spindle? See also:these collected threads from the Spindlers group.

Transition from spindle to wheel: Somewhat experienced spindle spinner looking for a nice-looking, inexpensive wheel that can be used for fine yarns. They bought a Kromski Minstrel. Another somewhat experienced spindle spinner looking for a beginner wheel. She eventually got a double treadle folding Fricke. A third. Looks like they purchased a Kiwi or a Traditional.

Looking for a spinning wheel comparison chart. Linked to the Spin Off pdf linked above.

A thread with a bit of information about different tensioning systems.

Portability/compactness concerns: This person wants something compact and under $700. By the end of the thread they seem to have decided to save their money for a while. A thread on portable vs. unportable wheels. Same thread crossposted, with a more detailed conversation. Experienced spinner looking for portable wheel for fine yarns. Travel wheel reviews.

Questions about narrowing down wheel choices based on fairly specific listed attributes. Narrowing down choices based on additional available accessories. Looking to spin relatively fine knitting yarns, $800 budget. They ended up with a Schacht Ladybug. Specifically looking for single-treadle options.

Charkhas. Looking for very inexpensive wheels, curious about charkhas. Does not appear to want one in the end. Another charkha-focused thread. This person seems more interested.

Absolute spinning newbie sees a good deal on a Louet on Craigslist and wants to know if it’s a good deal. It is, and they buy it. Some discussion of general spinning advice and accessories.

Less Informative (but still possibly useful) Threads related to getting a first wheel:

Should my wheel be finished or unfinished? Another discussion of finishes.

Trying to understand the difference between different drive systems and figure out what’s best for a beginner. And one specifically curious how direct drive works.

“Wheel for a new spinner” query. Which sounds like it should go in the upper group, but it gets bogged down in “this question is too generic and has been answered a million times” drama. Spinner decides to stick with spindles for now.

Starting with an antique: The dangers of starting off with an antique: an object lesson. A “please identify this wheel” thread. Some useful discussion of how to determine whether a wheel is functional. Person finds possible antique, asks if it’s a good wheel. Answers from experienced spinners range from “Wow it’s lovely” to “This poor wheel has some real problems,” giving some sense of how hard it is to judge these things from static images on the internet. Another “Found possible wheel on EBay” query. Another one. Real wheel or decoration? Genuine spinning wheel shaped object in the wild.

Tips on looking at a used but not necessarily antique) wheel. They purchased a used Kromski Prelude off EBay.

What wheels have bobbins that are easy to remove?

Opinions on some specific wheels. Hitchhiker and Roadbug wheels. Direct wheel comparison: Lendrum Vs. Ashford Joy. Sequoias. Kiwi or Ladybug? (They seem to be putting off a purchase until later.) Fricke or Fantasia? (They’re leaning towards a Fricke at the end.)

Using an electric spinner. Another not-explicitly newbie thread but I wanted to add something about e-spinners in.

What booths have wheels at Rhinebeck?


Posted in handspun, spinning by tchemgrrl on October 4, 2012

(I was humming “Aqualung” while plying this. My brain is strange. And full of Jethro Tull.)

One last post related to the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival. While helping with vending, it’s become traditional for me to get a new spindle, choose some new-to-me fiber, and spindle spin during down times and as a demonstration of how this whole spinning thing works. Each one ultimately ends up as a project that I bring as a sample piece the next year, and then the cycle starts all over again. (Previous projects that are a result of this path have included Paxton 1, Paxton 2, Hitchhiker 2, and some very orange pants.) This year, rather than taking a twist of top, I took a brightly colored batt, thinking that it might be useful for explaining batts to new spinners if I had it all laid out and in mid-spin.

I worked on it all through the mad rush of Saturday and less intense but still bustling Sunday, in between teaching people to spin, answering questions, and restocking empty fiber, yarn, and spindle racks. I certainly hadn’t been spinning for speed or with any continuity, and yet by the time I got home I’d started plying. Not too shabby. It’s not a mile a day by any means, but it’s significant to me.

Later, at home, I continued with the plying while playing with the Toddler after work. The Toddler has been studiously avoiding all things spinning-related, to the point where I figured he associated them with my not giving him my full attention and were therefore deserving of a cold shoulder. But suddenly the switch flipped, and he was fascinated:

Helping me spin

To the point of hugging it, or maybe just turning it into a phone.


And then, without any prompting, demonstrated a textbook-perfect palm roll.

He was even spinning it in the correct direction for plying 9 times out of 10, and was happy to keep playing this game until it was time for dinner.

Watching him do this is like watching him suddenly starting to put words together. He’s been absorbing it this whole time, but hasn’t been showing it in any way, and then the switch flips and it’s there. Fun to watch. I’ve got some bits of wool and a beater of a spindle all ready for him, so I’ll introduce those soon and see what happens.

Here’s the final yarn.

aqualime batt

As I mentioned in the other post, I’m not surprised about the thick-and-thin nature of it considering the haphazard way it was spun. 150 yards, 2 ounces, pretty poofy for those stats. For one ply, I grabbed chunks of fiber pretty much at random, but for the other ply I slowly peeled off successive layers of color, slowly transitioning from the bright lime green to the aqua color. It’s easier to see if I lay out the skein:

aqualime batt

I’m hoping that the overall effect will be that of a unifying theme but with bright flecks throughout.

The big question: what to do with it?

Tape Weaving Class

Posted in travel, weaving by tchemgrrl on October 1, 2012

While at the fiber festival, I took a class on tape weaving and thought I’d share some of what I learned.

I have an inkle loom but have only played with it in a somewhat dilettante fashion, so I was interested to see other techniques for making warp-faced bands, and to learn some relatively simple ways of making lovely patterns. Beforehand, I wasn’t even sure what the difference between inkle and tape weaving was, so I was coming at it from a pretty raw beginner perspective. It turns out that from the perspective of what comes off the loom, they’re very, very similar–so much so that the teacher had several books on inkle weaving for perusal, because the existing tape weaving literature is so limited. (Key quote from the teacher: “We know that these types of woven tapes were incredibly common, historically, but there’s very little written about them. In some ways, their commonness is why. Would you write a book about toilet paper holders giving detailed descriptions of how to refill it when it’s empty?”)

The tape weaving itself was an interesting process. The tape looms we used mostly looked similar to these ones. The warp is wound around the little squirrel-cage, for whatever yardage length you want. It’s then threaded through the little holes and slots in the wooden piece that sticks up.

If you’ve made a potholder on one of those little square looms that I saw in every after-school class growing up, you know how laborious it is to individually weave your way up and down through individual, tensioned threads. So looms take that laborious step away through various clever tensioning mechanisms on the warp threads. On the tape loom, threads going through the little holes can’t move, but threads going through the vertical slots can slide up and down. If you lift the whole tape upwards, the threads in the slots are above those in the holes, and you can pass your weft through the space. If you push the tape downwards, now the threads in the slots are lower than those in the holes, and you can weave back in the opposite direction. It’s a clever construction, easy to understand and operate, and with the feel of so many other historical tools of having been perfected through many generations until it’s practically part of our cultural DNA to go through the steps required to make bits of fabric. It feels right, almost instantly.

To evenly weave the tape, you need to put some tension on the system, and to put tension on the tape, you simply pull on it with your hand. This was actually the part I liked least; by the end of the two hour class my hands were pretty tired. I don’t know if I’d actually buy a tool to do something that is so unergonomical for me (when thinking about how I’d modify the design to be easier on the hands, I realized I was reverse engineering a backstrap loom without actually knowing anything about such a loom except that it involves some kind of back strap.) But it does have some advantages over the inkle, in that a band can be made of any length. On an inkle loom, your warp wraps around the little pegs once, and only once, so you can’t make anything longer than that. It works great for shorter lengths like bookmarks but if I was looking at the edging on an adult sized sweater it’d be nice to make an unlimited length. In looking online I did find some manufacturers that have a built-in tensioning mechanism on a tape-like loom, so I may look into that at some point.

Anyhow, it was a fun, educational class. I didn’t think that it really hooked me, but then I found myself looking at rigid heddle looms. So maybe it did.