Thoughts from the trail...


While much of the country is buried under blankets of snow and ice, here in western Washington we've been enjoying one of the mildest winters in recent memory...

Dawg & I walk often, no matter what the weather, but it is a particular pleasure to wander deep into the woods this season when we have several inches of spongey moss under our feet
and paws.  

The woods around us are mainly a mix Douglas fir trees and red alder with an understory of salal, oceanspray, serviceberry, mahonia, willows and the very sweet smelling (in June), wild Nootka rose.  There's also an abundance of lichens and mosses, too numerous to even begin to identify.  

I'm viewing all of this native plant material in a completely different way ever since reading an absolutely stunning book about dyeing textiles with leaves, bark, seed husks, and many other natural materials.  Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles, written by Australian textile artist India Flint, is a fascinating read and warning, you may never look at plants in the same way again!  More of her work can be seen on her website and she writes an informative & visually glorious blog, Prophet of Bloom. So I'm eyeing the windfalls, broken branches, dried ferns and plotting my upcoming dye experiments. Thank you, India, for my *new* eyes.

After surfacing from all these plant-based thoughts, I remembered that today is the last day of the month - which means that tomorrow I begin an online 'Digital Photomanipulation' workshop. Online, how cool is that?!  Right from the keyboard in front of my comfy chair.  The students work at their own pace, with tutorials and lots of individual attention if we need it. You see, I've had this ongoing love/hate thing with digital photography for some time.  It occurred to me that maybe a crash course, taught by a creative photographer (in this case, Susan Tuttle), might provide just the kick in the derriere I need. I've been lazy, playing only with the limited tools in iPhoto (Mac) when I know I could do so much more and probably have a whole heck of a lot more FUN.  The two photos below illustrate the extent of what I currently do with iPhoto:
Straight out of camera
Levels changed, warmed, sharpened details, highlights lowered
I think there's still room in the workshop, if anyone needs a kick, too :>]]  In the meantime, it's back to beading my January page. Stay tuned, my friends, and I hope everyone has had a very good weekend.


Needle felting sampler


Honey, I shrank the kids vest!

I just couldn't give up on that teal colored wool vest (or maybe not all wool) that I wrote about here.

The color is too perfect, just what I need for my January page of the Bead Journal Project...so this time I boiled the heck out of it on the stove. Using a couple of long metal spoons, I agitated the pot for about half an hour, dipping the whole soggy mess twice into cold water baths. It did not shrink too much more from the washing machine experiment, but it did shrink some. Enough for me to call it a keeper.  

This is part of said vest, above, used as a base for a little needle felting sampler.  Although you can still see the knitting stitches in the vest material, I like it because of the texture.  Pardon the odd assortment of colors - I was going for contrast, not *art*.  The wool, yarns & fibers I played with are left to right:  hand spun wool-something that I traded for in a swap; Noro yarn (wool/mohair/silk, from Japan); hand dyed Wensleydale locks; Cascade Yarns (all wool, from Italy); hand dyed silk (throwster's waste); Merino wool roving (spiral dyed).

This was my first venture into the world of needle felting and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to tack everything down.  Lots of that ease had to do with this little gizmo:

This is a "pen style" needle felting tool, made by Clover, which is fitted at the moment with three needles but you can use only two, or even one needle, depending on the details of your hand work. I chose this style especially for its grip since I am blessed with grandma's hands, arthritis and all. You've gotta watch out for these puppies though - I think the word "barbed" is an understatement.

One last observation before I get back to the worktable...Merino roving is definitely the cat's meow!  (Apology to my dawg, sorry woofie.)  The way the roving behaves while its being felted is unlike any of the other materials I used and since you can pull off even the slightest little wisps of wool, the possibilities for subtlety and the layering of color are going to be a whole world unto themselves.

Till next time...


Upcycled wool...


...by deconstructing sweaters?

Why not.

While figuring out the parameters for this years Bead Journal Project, I realized that over the coming months I was going to need a lot more felt - a LOT more.  My primary felt pieces will be the resist dyed merinos that I wrote about here, but since even these will be deconstructed & pieced back together with other textiles, other felt, I knew I needed to get the additional felt from somewhere.  Rather than buy new, I decided to make my own.  Or I should say, decided to engage in some serious wool recycling...and shrink my own from previously-owned.

Which brings me to this little blue number.  Isn't that a purdy periwinkle?  It's one of a few sweaters I found at a local thrift shop.  I came away with about a half dozen for my experiment at a very reasonable cost.  After a bit of research on the internet about the best way to felt in a washing machine, I began cutting.  I had a moment's hesitation before making the first snip - how could I ruin a perfectly good sweater?  Yet a closer look at the sales tag told me that this beauty had been on the rack since August 2008, so my guilt quickly faded away.  I removed all the seams (except for the front neck), as they are bulky and can cause the garment to shrink unevenly.

They say it's advisable to choose a sweater with a high wool content.  
This one is 50% lambswool, 40% Angora and 10% nylon.

I did the same cutting to this sweater vest which looked 
and had texture like wool, 
but was missing its tag so I was unsure of its true content.

It had some lovely silver buttons, which I've saved  :>]
(To see any of these photos a bit larger, just click on the image.)

Top loading washers are best due to the type of agitation they provide, but since I don't have one of those, my front loader was just going to have to do.  Due to the high volume of lint that this process produces (and the possibility of seriously clogging your washer!) I bagged each sweater in its own pillow case and tied the top tightly with jute string.  Here they are, ready to get shrunk (or the process of "fulling" as they say in the felt world.)

I washed each bag separately and each load had two pairs of jeans thrown in with them to help with the agitation - HOT water with a cold rinse - and a little less detergent than usual. Next step, into a hot dryer.  For the blue sweater, I decided to air dry one of the sleeves so that I could compare shrinkage.

Although both shrank, the sleeve from the dryer (left) shrank more. It is also denser and softer.

Unfortunately, the teal vest barely shrank at all.  Since this was the additional wool I was going to use on my January page (the greeny-blue color is perfect!) that was a disappointment.  But I am not giving up yet and I intend to experiment further by boiling said vest in a pot on the stove.  If anything, that'll serve it right for not fulling on me!

Here is the result of the blue sweater, not as dramatic a difference in photos as in real life but definitely more dense, more soft and the knitted texture has disappeared.  I would guess the overall shrinkage to be about 20%.


Another detail of interest was the difference in edges of the air dried sleeve and the dryer sleeve.  It is subtle but I hope you can see it below: the dryer sleeve (left) has a beautifully felted edge...almost rolled...whereas the air dried sleeve is flatter.  Embellishing the edge of the left sleeve would be more appealing to me than than the right.  A matter of personal choice in the end, still, it's helpful to learn how to control edges.

I like this concept of recycling, or upcycling, wool.  The possibilities are endless, even for the most hole-ridden, tattered and unloved specimens...

Back to the BJP...here are the two hand dyed merino felts that I am using for my January page, as they looked before I started cutting & stitching.  Must solve the issue of finding more teal-colored wool. Anyone have a sweater they'd like to ditch??
Stay tuned...

It is always a pleasure to have visitors here, so thanks for stopping by.  Your comments are greatly welcomed and appreciated.  Till next time...


Stoppin' for the wags...


Sometimes you just have to drop everything.

Especially when she is giving you THIS look...

Could we puhleeez go for a walk now?

The sun has come out and dawg is antsy for an adventure, so she stares me down while that tail goes back and forth, back and forth.  I know if we walk the wags will be endless.  And I'm one big softie for endless wags.

Cleaning up my workspace can wait.  So can the bead sorting, the unruly stack of dishes.
Gotta get me some of this.

And this.
Because that's pure happiness.  So I'm stoppin' everything for the wags...


A reason for a list...


Outside the window today was this sight...a 'Jelena' witch hazel blooming her silly head off.  My first blooms of winter on the first shrub planted in the first garden of my very first home.  Whew, that's firsts  a'plenty.  I am grateful, deeply grateful for each.

And this color, what does one call it?  Copper-orange?  Burnt orange?  Deep melon tipped with pumpkin?  No matter.  Because all I could think was I wonder if Jelena would be considered a good plant for dyeing fabric.  Could I possibly get THAT color to transfer to textiles?  To felt??  Oh, be still my beating heart!

A list, yes, must start a list..."Dye Garden Plants."  Two columns; must haves & already have. Later I can add the column, already killed.

Note to self: research, buy more books, ask more questions, welcome the wisdom of blog friends with dye stains on their clothes  :>]


Once in a Blue Moon resolution...


For the first day of this new decade, I offer a story...an extraordinary true tale of a wondrous series of events.   These events happened to a pilot friend of mine while in a plane last night on New Years eve.  He has generously agreed to let me send it even further into cyberspace.  So find a cozy seat, grab a cup of tea (or whatever suits your fancy) for this is a bit of a long one.  But trust me, well worth the read.  You might hang your hat on it, too...

Hello Family and Friends --

I recently read that the reason most New Year resolutions fail is because not enough people know about it to keep the pressure on.  I really want this one to work, so have decided to enlist cyberspace to get mine out there.  Unfortunately for you, I am not prone to one-liners.  And besides, this one has a story to go with it.  So here goes...

Something unique happened to us last evening, on New Years Eve, as we were departing LAX [Los Angeles International Airport] in our Boeing 757 headed for Guatemala City.  More accurately, I suppose you could say we caused it to happen, with a bit of luck and maybe even some divine intervention thrown in for good measure.  Nothing earth shaking.  No water landing or terrorist threat or anything like that.  Just a simple and perhaps, to some, mundane event, yet something positive that I can hang my hat on (along with the ever increasing melancholy that seems to be accompanying my advancing age) as an omen that 2010 will be a good year, a welcome event to the start of a promising new decade.

We pushed back our flight right on schedule at 2345 (11:45 pm for you civilians) and the thought occurred to me that if we timed this right we could possibly be the first official departure from LAX of the new year, and therefore the new decade, on a beautiful night lit up by a "once in a Blue Moon."

I took a moment to reflect back on the fact that I was born and raised just a few miles east of this exact runway where, as kids, my brothers and I would run out into the back yard every time one of those new fangled "jets" would come roaring down final (The Boeing 707 - proudly flying Pan Am colors), which was exciting and fun to catch, as it only happened about once a week, and then once a day, and then once an hour, until we got tired of the game and such marvels became a part of our everyday lives.

No, it is not since then that I "always wanted to be a pilot."  That happened more by accident than anything else. But my remembrance convinced me that this New Years takeoff just had to happen, and it had to happen right at the stroke of midnight.

As we were starting the engines, I mentioned my idea to the First Officer (another LAX-based pilot, but whom I had just met and never flown with before) unsure of what he would think of my old man meanderings.  To my delight he became the definition of "getting in to it" and together we started formulating our plan.  We were not the only piece of tin rolling around on the airport at that time, and much of your fate is in the hands of the ground and tower controllers barking out instructions on the radios.  But the aircraft will only roll as slow or as fast as I will let it, so we used that to our advantage.

As we approached Runway 25R for takeoff it became apparent that this thing had a chance of happening, and after checking in with the tower controller we requested if he could arrange for us to be the first departure for 2010 from LAX.  His response was, "You bet I can!" and he gave us an official time hack of 23:57:23 and directed us to "taxi into takeoff position and hold."

Precisely at the stroke of midnight we received the following clearance.  "The first official departure from LAX for 2010, is cleared for takeoff runway 25 Right, fly heading two one zero, Happy New Year" and we poured the coals to the engines and blasted off into the Blue Moon night.  All of this, of course, is over the radios and audible to all other aircraft on frequency.  As we were rolling down the runway we heard an aircraft being cleared for landing on the parallel runway, 25L, whose response to the tower was, "That makes us the first official landing of 2010, right?" to which the tower responded, "Affirmative."  Everyone was into it.

I suppose that after all is said and done, what this boils down to is just another uneventful takeoff.  Happens tens of thousands of times around this great country of ours every day.  But we chose to look at this one slightly differently, acknowledging its uniqueness amongst ourselves, even as a more powerful yet unspoken sense of what it meant to each of us individually filtered through the atmosphere.

To me, it was the first takeoff of what will be the last decade of my flying career, and it happened 3 miles from where I was born, and at the stroke of midnight on one of the most unique nights in history, a Blue Moon on New Years Eve.  It cannot happen again.  Ever.  Whether or not this means anything is up to me.  My New Year's resolution is to make sure it marks the beginning of a new and better time for our family and our country.  I sincerely hope you have a "once in a Blue Moon" to hang your hat on too.  If not, make one up.  Probably works just as well.

Happy New Year and God Bless This Country


Image courtesy of