Archive for December 2009

Cabled Alpaca Socks for Mom

December 28, 2009

I’m trying to finish up a pair of socks for my Mom. I showed them to her in an unfinished state last week so that I’d have license to work on them in her presence while I was home, and maybe have some chance of finishing them before I left. But that was not to be. I’m knitting these in Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine in the “red wood” colorway.

I really like working with this stuff, both in this fine gauge and in the “light” and regular versions. The fine gauge is 50% Wool, 20% super fine alpaca, and 30% Nylon (for sock durability), whereas the heavier blends are 50% alpaca, and 50% Peruvian wool. I find them all to keep a body quite warm for their weight.

For these socks, I’m using the pattern “Sugar Maple” by Melissa Morgan-Oakes from her book, 2-at-a-time Socks. This is my first experience with the two-socks-at-a-time method. (Both socks are knit simultaneously on one long circular needle.) I enjoy most aspects of the two at at time method, although I’ve had a few tangle incidents while knitting from both ends of the ball. Knitting in strange and cramped places has caused most of my tangles though. For example, I did several hours of work on the plane to and from my geophysics meeting in San Francisco last week:

While on the plane, a little boy next to me said, “Look mom, he’s yarning!” I thought only old people could do that!” She told him it was called knitting and that he watched too many cartoons. I thought it was cool that he found my age rather than my gender to the the unusual thing about my knitting. The needle I’m using is a Hiya-Hiya US#1. I have a nickel allergy that prevents me from using Addi turbos for more than a few minutes. But these Hiya-Hiyas are nickel-free, cost less than half as much, and seem just as smooth to me. So if you have a nickel allergy, (or just want to save money on circular needles) check them out. Indoor lighting does not show off the tiny cable twists very well:

but hopefully I’ll be able to get a better picture when these are finished.

POTW #7: Christmas Day Cardinal

December 27, 2009

Female Northern Cardinal; Cardinalis cardinalis

focal length: 432 mm, aperture: f/3.5, shutter: 1/160 sec,  distance: 3 meters, location: Groton, CT.

This Cardinal didn’t do anything to help defend the Pope this Christmas, but I enjoyed her visit anyway. We’re visiting Beth’s parents in Connecticut for a few days. The birds put on an entertaining show several times a day at their many backyard feeders. This morning I saw six bluejays congregating at the trayfeeder for breakfast, but the camera wasn’t handy. I’ve never seen so many bluejays in such a small area before.

When we arrived in town late Wednesday evening, thirteen inches of snow covered the yard. Rain has basically washed it all away now. We packed our cross country skis, but skiing it seems will have to wait until we return to NH.


December 22, 2009

Last week I stopped in my hometown in Ohio to visit my family on the way back from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco. My brother, Adam,  and I were explaining memes to my mom, and I stumbled upon this MoneyFace meme on Adam and I had a lot of fun making a few of our own moneyfaces using Photobooth and the built in iSight on my MacBook. (I believe at this point that approximately two thirds of my blog readers also use Macbooks and could do this immediately upon reading this post; so if you make some, please post them in the comments or post a link. I’d like to see how they turn out.) We used US and Canadian $5’s here.

POTW #6: Check out the Proboscis on this guy

December 21, 2009

Hecale Longwing (Heliconius hecale)

I was in San Francisco this past week for the American Geophysical Union “fall” meeting to present some results and a proposal, and Beth and I took one afternoon to go to the California Academy of Sciences Museum. This place was amazing, and as icing on the cake, it happened to be “free day” because we went on the third Wednesday of the month. This butterfly was one of many amazing sights we saw in the museum. Hopefully I’ll have time to blog about more of the week in a few days. As I write, I am sitting and waiting for a delayed flight in the Akron/Canton airport in Ohio; I stopped by Ohio to visit my family for a few days. I love small airports with free wifi. Time to board…

Root Canal

December 9, 2009

I went for my usual 6 month tooth cleaning yesterday. I have this impression that if I have any tooth sensitivity before my visit, then there will be no cavities, while if my teeth feel fine and dandy, then I will end up needing fillings. This time I was feeling pretty much fine, although I’ve had a little sporadic gum swelling under a filled tooth that was temperature sensitive several months ago.

When the dentist looked at the swollen gum area, I could tell that he made the “uh…this is not good” face under his mask. So I was not totally surprised when he looked at the x-ray and recommended that I get a root canal (which is officially called “endodontic therapy”)  from the endodontic specialists down the road. My dentist suggested that I should not delay in getting this “therapy” for my tooth because the gum swelling was probably a potential abscess.  I think abscess and root canal were the terms I least wanted to hear a dentist say to me.

As luck would have it, the Dover Endodontic Associates had a cancellation this morning. So I was able to go right away for my endodontic therapy. I learned quite a few things through this experience. First, I got a thorough lesson on what a root canal is. I love this kind of thing. Whenever I have a medical procedure I must sound like a kid on a science museum field trip. I always ask lots of questions about the procedure–not because I don’t trust the medicos, but because I’m think the ways our bodies can be repaired are fascinating.

Basically the nerve tissue inside my tooth had died. Bacteria apparently love dead nerve cells inside a tooth.  I imagine them like brain-eating little zombies. These zombies can move out from the tooth and make other nearby tissue necrotic as well. The root canal procedure is to drill out the dead tissue all the way down through the canals in the tooth’s roots. Then the drilled out holes are sanitized and filled with a natural rubber called “gutta-percha.”  After all this, I have to get a crown—a tooth shaped hat for my rubber filled tooth. I think gutta-percha is a great name. I’ve been saying it conga line style all day: “gutta gutta perCHA!”

the gutta-percha tree

I’d heard of “dental dams” in health class, but I didn’t know dentists actually used them! After numbing me up, they began by stretching this little trampoline (the dam) across my mouth and sticking it down around the offending tooth. The dam prodrudes from the tooth like one of those cones they make dogs wear. This isolates the tooth so that they can keep it clean and dry more easily. The Dr.  poked a little hole on the other side of the dam so that I could breathe through my mouth. Very thoughtful.

Dam in place, the Dr. drilled out the tooth. I never knew there were so many shapes and sizes of dental drill. He must have switched drills bits every 10 seconds once he was down into the roots. After the drilling, he actually hand filed the canals with teeny tiny pin-sized files held between his fingertips. I was impressed. This guy had game.

I have a temporary filling in the tooth now and have to return for more drilling and shaping in a few weeks. Sadly they weren’t able to do all the necessary drilling and shaping in the time afforded by the cancellation into which I slipped. I’ll have to wait for my permanent gutta-percha (which incidentally comes from the Malay word for the tree that produces this rubber).

Rumplestiltsken is my name!

December 7, 2009

Okay, so I’m not spinning straw into gold yet, but we got our very own wheel. So, I can practice every day, which means it’s probably only a matter of time…

Leslie told us that she was selling one of the 11 wheels in the Spinner’s Loft, for someone who’d brought it to her and wanted to get rid of it. Part of the reason we wanted to take the spinning workshop was that Beth and I were thinking of getting a wheel and we wanted to make sure we liked spinning on a wheel, knew how to use one, and had some idea how they worked mechanically before investing in one of our own.

We liked this one well enough after practicing on it for a while, and it was definitely a better value than many of the new wheels that we would otherwise be considering. So we got it. Ta da!

Beth takes the wheel for a spin in its new home:

The wheel is a Nilus LeClerc, and is at least 30 years old because LeClerc, which is based in Quebec has not made wheels in about that long. Now they only make looms. We really need a spinning stool rather than a rocking chair to sit on while spinning, but the rocker will work for now.

2nd Anniversary Spinning Adventure!

December 7, 2009

(Click to view larger) Our route from Dover, NH, USA to West Jeddore, NS, Canada (and back). For scenic reasons, we took the southern route on the way there, and the northern route on the way back.

Last week, for our second anniversary, Beth and I took a trip to Nova Scotia to take a textile spinning workshop. During the trip we stayed in two very nice Canadian B&B’s. We packed up after thanksgiving dinner and hit the road for St. Stephen, New Brunswick just over the US/Canada border to stay at the Blair House Heritage Inn.

Beth researches activities for Saturday in New Brunswick

The breakfast of pancakes and fruit was delicious. David, our host, made excellent tea. David hails originally from England, and worked as a hunting and fishing guide before taking over the bed and breakfast a few years ago. I really liked our room’s hand-shaped light fixtures:

From St. Stephen, we traveled to St. John, the capital of New Brunswick, which is on the coast. Apparently they really like their Saint names in the Canadian maritime provinces. The downtown area of St. John is populated by these stocky wooden sculptures of pedestrians:

can you spot Beth?

The wooden people even walk around in the mall!

After escaping the wooden Canadians we checked out the New Brunswick Museum for a few hours. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the museum, but my favorite parts were the exhibits on ship building (New Brunswick was a major ship building center during the age of sail), and the Hall of Great Whales, where there were complete skeletons of several kinds of whale, and a 90% scale model of a North Atlantic Right Whale (like those we saw live in August).

From St. John we continued on to Musquodoboit Harbor  on the southern coast of Nova Scotia, where we were taking the weekend-long spinning workshop. There was going to be one other student, but she canceled due to swine flu. So, Beth and I had the entire workshop to ourselves!

I should explain how we ended up going to Nova Scotia for a spinning workshop. Having practiced drop spindle spinning for a few weeks, we decided we’d like to learn to spin with a wheel. We found the Spinner’s Loft online, and thought a weekend spinning workshop vacation in Nova Scotia would be a fun way to celebrate our anniversary. So we called up Leslie, the proprietor of the Spinner’s Loft, and found as luck would have it that she was available for the weekend of American Thanksgiving.

There were many wheels in the spinner's loft.

Leslie has been spinning for about 30 years, and has spun an amazing variety of fibers: wool, silk, flax (linen), horse hair, musk ox, dog hair, cat hair, organic cotton from tampons, and lion’s mane to name a few! Don’t worry, the lion was not sheared. The lion’s mane hairs were gathered from tree branches where they’d become stuck when the lion rubbed against the tree.

We began on the first day by learning about washing, picking and carding of fleece. I passed some Cotswold fleece through the triple picker, which was definitely the device most closely resembling a medieval torture implement. A triple picker consists of a cradle shaped bed of nails, and a nail studded pendulum that swings just above the bed. You feed the locks of wool in one end while swinging the pendulum-of-death, and an airy cloud of wool magically comes out the other end.

Cotswold fleece and the triple picker (right). Cotswold are cool looking dredlock rasta sheep (see photo).

We took the cloud over to the drum carder and learned to use it. This is basically a pair of giant round hairbrushes with a crank to drive them around. The drum carder produces a moderately tenuous bat of fiber, which can either be torn into strips along the “grain” to make roving or it can be rolled perpendicular to the grain to make little logs called rolags.

Next we did some drop spindle spinning “in the grease.” This means spinning wool that still has a fair amount of  lanolin in it. In our case, there was also some vegetable matter and maybe an occasional trace of sheep poo in it, too. The spindling was much easier with Leslie’s spindles than our tiny-whorled homemade ones. (The whorl is the disc shaped part of the spindle). After the drop spindling warm-up, we moved on to learning to use the wheel. I think this post is long enough, so I’ll save the wheel stuff for another post.

POTW #5: Adam Watches The Ocean

December 4, 2009

I’ve been pretty  bad at remembering to do my photo of the week for at least a month. My mother and brother came to visit me and Beth in NH this past August. I now see the ocean pretty regularly because we live less than 15 miles from it. I can even ride my bike there. It hadn’t occurred to me until we went to the beach during their visit that my brother had probably not seen the ocean in about ten years. It’s a pretty amazing sight.

Adam watches the Ocean. 10 August 2009. Newport, RI.  shutter: 1/200 sec., focal length: 32.2mm, aperture f/3.5. distance: about 10 meters.

First Spinning!

December 1, 2009

I might have a few more posts in my Cameroon journal series, but I think I’m going to be shifting gears for a week or so to posts about making stuff. To begin with: making yarn!

A couple of weeks ago Beth and I just each got an ounce or two of hand painted roving at the farmer’s market in Portsmouth, NH. Roving is wool that has been cleaned and smoothed and  is ready to be spun into yarn. If it has been hand painted, it looks like this:

One Ounce of Hand Painted Roving

One Ounce of Hand Painted Roving

One way to make yarn is using a spinning wheel, like you see in fairy tale illustrations. But a far older method is to use a device called a drop spindle. This is just a stick with a ball or disk on it, and a hook at one end.  We built our own drop spindles out of dowelrods, 2” wooden toy cartwheels, and 1/2” brass cup hooks. (Mine also involves some surgical tape because my dowel split a bit when I was screwing in the cup hook).

Home made drop spindle

Recent archaeological evidence has suggested that humans may have been spinning using simple tools like these as long as 30,000 years ago! To use this device, you basically tie on a teased-out bit of roving, spin the spindle like a top, and let the twist come into a little bit of the roving at a time, as you tease out more and more fiber. Periodically you have to stop and wind the newly formed yarn onto your stick, because—earning it’s name—the drop spindle reaches the floor when you’ve created about two meters of yarn.

The Spinner, William Adolphe Bouguereau, oil on canvas, 1873

Beth caught on to the technique a bit faster than I did, so at the end of our first spinning evening. She had some nice, fairly uniform, possibly-thin-enough yarn on her spindle:

spindle in action: Beth demonstrates her technique

I, however, had become the proud creator several yards of coiled purple muppet dredlock:


My muppet"yarn."

But we took the spindles with us to the laundromat the following week, and I finally got the hang of it. While we were doing laundry, I  produced some purplish single-ply yarn comparable to Beth’sfirst blue/green stuff, which she had already plied and set.

“Plying?” you may ask. Well, most yarn is actually made up of several strands that have been twisted together. The strands we made above are called “singles,” and they are held together by their twist. If the individual wool fibers weren’t twisted they’d just slide past each other and the yarn would fall apart when you pulled on it.

So this twist is very useful, but if you’ve ever twisted up a yo-yo string, or kite string or rubber band, you know that highly twisted things like to kink up and coil around themselves. Because of this, a single ply yarn, or “single,” is sort of hard to work with. The yarn may kink when you’re trying to knit it or weave it. This problem of kinking can be solved by taking two singles that twist to the right, and twisting them around each other to the left. The result is yarn that is strong, but doesn’t kink:

Plied yarn still on the spindle

Finally, I unwound this plied yarn off the spindle and coiled it around a chair back to make a skein. This is only about 15 meters of yarn, but I’m pretty happy with it for my first attempt, (i.e. first attempt after the muppet dreadlock incident).

the finished skein

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