Friday, June 19, 2020

Online Learning

While I already had lots of things to occupy my time during our pandemic lock down, I thought why not take this as an opportunity to learn something new.  You see, I have always wanted to learn to paint with watercolour.
Over the years, I have taken a few classes but never came away feeling that I could "do it"  I have come to realize that those failed attempts were more about the instructor than me.  How is that? well....the first time was probably 35 years ago, the instructor, while critiquing our work was pretty brutal, and worse yet, she painted right over your work when explaining what it was you should have done. It was an 12 week course and she turned me right off!  Then, roughly 20 years ago I took another course.....this time the instructor was much better.....however at the end of the course he suggested that watercolour was "not for me"  he told me that my work looked more like photographs than paintings. (apparently that was a bad thing)  he added....."if you want a photo...get a camera" so you know....the supplies went in a drawer and stayed there.
Fast forward to last month when a post by Anna Mason popped up in my Instagram feed.....oh my...her work is spectacular and she was offering 2 free classes. So what did I have to loose?  I did those classes, was immediately hooked and joined her online school.  I have signed on for 6 months to start.
The most important lesson of all is that sometimes its NOT you.....perhaps you just have not found the right teacher.  Anna's realistic style and superb instruction is exactly what I needed.

As I show you these paintings.....note that for most of them, I am simply following the lesson plan, Anna takes you through every stage, step by step guiding you in what colours to use, where to place them and what consistency they need to be mixed at. So until I try something on my own I feel that perhaps I am just a good copycat.  At the end of this post  I will show you my first attempt at doing a painting completely on my own.....I think it shows that Anna's method "clicking" for me.

These 2 above, the pear, and the anemone are the free classes offered. If you are curious, you can find them here

Once I became a member of Anna Masons School of Art, I began working through some of the beginner courses, the Pumpkin and Snowdrop are a couple of examples of beginner lessons.
I have completed about 10 lessons already and am LOVING every bit of it. I am not going to bore you with all the paintings but will share a couple more.

I moved onto some intermediate level tutorials of which this Magnolia is one.

As I pointed out, when working through lessons being completely guided every step of the way....am I really and truly learning? how would I know unless I try one on my own without being told what tone and hue to apply, when, where and how to apply them. So, I did attempt a painting on my own, the orchid you see below. I am quite happy with how it turned out overall

I really feel that this time I have found the right teacher for me.....and I am thrilled!

btw.....clicking on each image will give you a closer look 



Sunday, March 22, 2020

Problem solving

A while back, I showed you an Indian Book Charkha that was given to me. At the time, I did not realize I was missing some essential bits.  I did play with it, learned how to use it, but then put it away as I could not actually create much with it. 


here is where the problem lies. I could spin, but I kept running into issues with the yarn working its way up the spindle shaft and eventually getting caught up in the mechanism which just chewed up the yarn I had spun.


Why? well because there is supposed to be a little disc that works as a stopper of sorts, I did not have those so I needed to work that out, and that was only one of the problems, I also had to figure out how I was going to get the yarn off the spindle smoothly to be able to ply it....I worked that out too!

lets start with the spindle.....here is how one should look... notice the little metal disc.....(this is a screen grab from The Woolery)


and here is what my spindles look like.....can you see what is missing?


I should point out that I did not get it quite right the first time....my solution evolved so I thought I would show you the whole thing (not just the end result)

I looked around the house for disc like things.....metal washers had too large a hole, were too heavy....cardboard degrades too quickly, I needed something lightweight, rigid, super smooth and the right size to still allow room for the spindle to spin. I grabbed some fridge magnets that looked about right....I popped out the magnet itself, made a small hole with and awl in the plastic and inserted the spindle.....YES! that worked, and worked fairly well.....trouble is that these things have a very rounded edge and so I would not be able to put a lot of fibre onto each spindle before the yarn I was spinning would fall off the edge.


So, I again combed through various drawers and boxes and came across some plastic that I used to use when I made costumes.....this stuff is what I used when I needed to build rigid elements into pieces.


I cut some discs from this plastic and began using with the plastic disc from the magnets.....I now had a better, flatter surface to build the cop.......I think it took a day or so for the light bulb to come on.....I no longer needed that thick fridge magnet plastic......I could use the spindles with that cut plastic only. the image below shows the end result, it works even better than I had hoped.



my next problem was how to get the yarn to pull off smoothly so that I could ply it. I needed something to hold the spindles in the right position for this.....and that was an easy fix. I grabbed my lazy Kate that I use with the bobbins for my spinning wheel. On the side I placed some screw eyes that would allow the spindles to sit in and spin easily.  This ultra simple little modification works amazingly well.

 you still see those thicker plastic discs here because this is the yarn I spun before the light bulb came on.



I am now using the spindles modified with the white plastic which is wonderful because everything still packs nicely inside the book Charkha, and finally, here is my test mini skein...it was spun using the book Charkha and then chain plied using my spinning wheel...the fibre is merino and silk.


I should note that traditionally these Indian Book Charkhas are made for spinning cotton....I currently don't have any cotton but I was not about to let that stop me from using it


Thursday, February 6, 2020

Long overdue

Whoa!....... I have not posted here in nearly a year...how the heck did that happen?!!

It is not that I haven't been creating, I suppose it is just that I have not spent as much time documenting my process as I used to.  But I do have some photos to share that will give you an idea of what has consuming my creative time these days.
In my last few posts I talked about my journey into spinning.....at that point I was using spindles to spin yarn but that all changed last summer when I had the opportunity to acquire my very own spinning wheel.
Those of you who have followed me for years know that I LOVE a challenge. My wheel was new....but here is the thing....it left the factory in 1985 exactly how I got it....in pieces, in a box, in need of sanding, finishing and assembly....so the brand new wheel I put together in 2019 was actually 34 years old....how cool is that?!


here it is assembled and working wonderfully



In July, I was gifted this vintage Book Charkha which is a fascinating device with such an interesting history.


You likely also know that I kinda like to try to build my own tools when I can. Because I have a nice supply of raw fleece to process, I was interested in getting some wool combs for prepping fibre that I could spin on the spinning wheel....but holy cow they are very expensive and while I am sure they are worth the cost I was not prepared to spend a lot of $$$ until I could see if it was something I would enjoy doing regularly......so I set out to make my own.

I found some onions holders on a clearance rack which was great cause if the experiment did not work, I wouldn't be out much.....Bonus!


I cut the plastic handles off, used some very strong double sided tape to hold them together slightly offset. I used a "found" hardwood shelf to cut into a couple of blocks of wood that the "tines" would be placed into. I borrowed my son's Dremel tool to hollow out a cavity in those blocks. that was a little labour intensive but remember....I do like a challenge. 



Once the cavity was clean and smooth I filled it with the onion holders, sawdust and wood glue. handles were made very simply with doweling. (if I ever do this again I will do something different as this is not the most ergonomic on the hands)


in the image below you can see the raw fleece locks on the left and the combed fibre on the right


These combs may not be pretty but they are holding up to the rigors of combing and actually work quite well.

My latest obsession is a result of this book I got a couple of weeks ago. It is Arne and Carlos Field Guide to Knitted Birds. oh my.....the book is gorgeous and these little birds are just way too much fun to knit and a wonderful way to use small bits of my hand spun yarn ( all but the black one in the photo have been knitted with yarn I processed, dyed and spun.)


I will try not to let so much time pass before my next post....but you can always find me on Instagram
just click the Instagram icon in the upper right corner of this blog.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Another Stash Busting Project

Okay, first of all let me clarify......it was someone else's stash...and I had help (thank you Susan). A few years back, a good friend showed me some wool fabric she was planning to rid herself of. She had been a rug hooker for many years but had pretty much given up that hobby for several others, so of course, I could not resist these beautiful hand dyed wools and said that perhaps I could do something with it. Well...guess what...it came to my house only to sit on a shelf until I finally decided I had to use it or move it on.
The challenge was that because it was a rug hookers stash, it was not "yardage", it was pieces/strips. But it was beautiful quality in a gloriously rich, wide, range of colours. I decided to make a wool throw.....something just right for draping over oneself while knitting, watching TV, reading or maybe even a little lazy afternoon snooze.

This is where Susan came in, I had way too much and needed help using this stuff up. We split the stash...I took predominantly blues and greens...Susan, reds and oranges. We also used some thrift shop finds to supplement....a kilt, a man's suit and a few other pieces were disassembled and in some cases dyed to give us exactly the extras we needed. (for some reason I don't have any of the greens pictured here)  the pile on the right was the result of some dye experiments.


I created a conceptual diagram of the sort of thing we were trying to achieve and we were off.


The next step was to make sure everything was cleanly trimmed (the trimmed bits looked too pretty to toss away.)


and to sort the pieces by size....some were as much as 11" long, others closer to 4". then we just played laying them out to make workable rows.


We decided that we would sew them together in an unconventional way.....so that we would not be dealing with tons of seams, my reasoning for this was that I knew I wanted to do big stitch quilting at the end. I think Susan was more clever and took hers to a long-armer  ( I will explain shortly)


Once we each had a pleasing layout, the pieces were simply machine stitched by butting the raw edges up to each other and using a triple zig zag which was such a pleasant sewing process.  Long vertical rows were created, then each row was attached to the next in the same manner


While I stayed very much in a subdued colour scheme, Susan on the other hand, added some brilliant, unexpected pops of colour to hers.




Susan and I each used a thin batting and found some nice Robert Kaufman flannel for our backings


A piece of soap served to mark the concentric circles which I would hand stitch using 12wt Aurifil cotton. The flannel for the back was only 45" wide....it needed to be pieced to get the required width, Susan pieced hers entirely with the flannel


...I chose to add a row of the same wool pieces used on the front to create my pieced back


These throws finished at 60" x 50" and are super cosy


the texture added by the machine quilting is fabulous!


I used striped cotton leftovers from the backing of a previous quilt for my binding.....Susan pieced wool to create her binding


I LOVE that Susan kept the labels in place from one of the up-cycled clothing pieces


Now.......time ( and use ) will tell if not having sewn traditional seams will have been a poor decision.....I must admit that I am a little concerned about how much stress the joins will endure over time. I think Susan was wise to have her quilt machine quilted as I think that will help its sturdiness and durability.

But, I have been using mine every evening for several weeks and it is not showing signs of any problems yet....."yet" being a key word.  I may go back and add more stitching to mine just the same.

oh....and btw......we were not completely successful at "stashbusting"  LOL! 



Friday, March 8, 2019

Bluprint free month trial offer

I promise I have a fresh post coming in a day or two, but today I wanted to share a link with you.

I have mentioned Bluprint before (previously Craftsy) whatever your interests, whatever you might like to learn more about...you can likely find a class on that topic. Quilting, sewing, knitting, cooking, baking, decorating, drawing, painting, spinning, crocheting....the list goes on and on.
I quite like the platform.....sometimes I "take" the whole class...sometimes, its just one portion or technique I want to see/learn and I jump to that part of the video class. I am always amazed to learn how much I don't know I don't know  LOL!

Interested? well Bluprint is currently offering a free month trial....yup a whole month on access!

If you are curious...want to learn more....I have this link for you here

I dont think I have EVER made a post without an image so I guess I need to put something here...how about some of my recent spinning......much of what I have learned about spinning and processing fibre has come from watching Bluprint classes.






Monday, January 21, 2019

Processing fleece & learning along the way



I have not been spinning all that long and so far have only used commercially prepared fibre. When you are just starting out learning a new art, I believe using the best supplies  you can afford will help set you up for success. Using good quality, well prepared fibre allowed me to quickly learn the mechanics of spinning so that I could produce fairly consistently spun yarns.
I am still spinning simply, I do not have a wheel, not even sure I will ever want one as I really enjoy using the spindles. It is amazingly meditative.

Having said all that, commercially prepared fibre can get a little pricey especially if you don't have a local source....when you have to factor in exchange rates, shipping and import/custom fees.

commercially dyed and processed South African Top
A friend who raises sheep has often offered to give me a fleece. Up until now I had been very reluctant to accept the offer, the thought of cleaning the fleece seemed quite unappealing to me, but curiosity got the better of me and one day while visiting the ranch I told him that I would take a “bit” to see if processing it was something that I thought I would want to do after all. He stuffed a couple of large freezer bags with generous handfuls of wool for me.....grinning the whole time....he knew what I was in for.
So, I brought it home, watched a number of YouTube videos to learn what to do and more importantly what NOT to do.


The first task was to sort what I had, remove as much vegetable matter as possible and wash a batch. I was surprised to find this was not near as objectionable as I had anticipated.


The trick is to clean the fibre without felting it, which means careful handling and attention to the water temperature. Quick temperature changes and agitation will lead to a felted, matted mess that will render the fibre unusable. I made a bath of very hot water with a bit of Dawn dish soap added to help break down the lanolin and remove the dirt.....soaked the locks for 30 min, rinsed and repeated, each batch took about 3 wash/rinses before the excess water was squeezed out and the fibre left to dry.
I approached this cautiously and tried a couple of different methods...batch 1, was placed in a plastic basket (holes in the basket would allow the water to circulate through the fleece as it was put into the hot water) with as little handling as possible....it worked, but not as well as I had hoped because the bottom of the basket doesnot have holes and so much of the "dirt" collected there.


Batch 2, I tried placing the fibre into mesh bags and washed that way...again, it worked okay but still did not seem to be getting thoroughly cleaned.
By the 3rd batch I was more at ease wth the process and just placed the loose fibre directly into the hot bath and continued with several wash rinse cycles.
Ultimately, a large old salad spinner works great. I can keep the fleece in the “basket” of the spinner...lift it in and out of the wash or rinse water....and then just squish out the most of the water and use the spinner's centrifugal action to force the last of the water out all with out having to touch/move the wet fibre.


I don’t have a drying rack, for that, I stretched some mesh fabric over a large Rubbermaid bin.....pulled taught it gave me a surface to lay the fleece on allowing good air flow all around.
Once dried, the cleaned fibre still looked a little iffy, but I quickly found that carding (using hand carders to pull apart the fibres and realign them) opened up the matted bits and removed any more lingering unwanted material...the fibre was indeed clean and spin ready.


I carded and spun some of the plain fibre, then I played with some dyeing, mixing and blending. Clearly, I was not thinking when I dyed the first batch of locks.  I dyed them so that there was a lovely colour gradation....not thinking about the fact that when I began to card the fibre it would simply become a blend...red, yellow and orange.....made orange  duh!


then I smartened up and did 3 separate dye pots. I carded the colours both separately as well as some blending



It really is an interesting process going from the animal to the finished yarn.





Copyright Jill Buckley