Friday, March 30, 2018

I always manage to miss Friday!

It has been my intention for some time to have a post for each Friday. Yeah, right... Y'all know how many I have missed.

But I am picking up the thread once again and this week, at least, I will spin one out into the digital world.

It's been a busy time at hex central, under the sign of the Fussing Duck. Spring -- or what passes for it here in Maine -- is upon us. The days are noticeably longer and the current 10 day weather forecast shows many days well above freezing and many, as well, with lows just below it. There is more rain than snow and we have a good melt going.

That makes challenges at chore time, though, as I always forget my cleats for morning chores and end up fighting slippery frozen snow, pushed into strange angles by footprints breaking through. At the same time I am fighting my sled full of water and feed; it does not want to slide nicely when there is no nice path to follow. And I am fighting to stay upright with one stick and one hand on a fence and one hand pulling the sled. You will likely notice a problem here. LOL

But it is nice to do chores, even in the wind, with a much lighter jacket and while able to doff the gloves as needed without dire consequences. Everyone is drinking more. I will be glad for hose season to arrive again. And the chickens and ducks are getting into the groove of laying.

Spring brings other issues as well. Late last week, the LGD, Moose, was alerting like crazy at something to the north. I caught glowing eyes in the flashlight beam, but whatever left and the dog settled down. We had a similar event tonight, but instead of eyes, there were crazy screams quite nearby. Eventually we IDed the sound as a female fox calling for a mate and thankfully she has also moved on. But when I took a walk to the back a couple of days after I saw the eyes, I found this partial deer head. There were no other parts, and no tracks, so I am assuming the stealthy-footed beast with the glowing eyes was a wild cat of some sort, light enough to leave no tracks on the crusty snow at the time. Even I, at 170 pounds, more or less, on snowshoes, barely left any depressions. The deer was obviously not killed here, but carried and in the day between having seen the eyes and finding it, apparently there were crows investigating, as I saw their tracks which had been made, most likely, during the daytime melt.

On other threads, I have completed the construction of 4 distaffs of various sizes, and have "dressed" two, to experiment with using as I spin with spindles. I have been playing with a "French style" spindle, too... learning how to "twiddle-spin." This is a method of holding a small, lightweight spindle in your hand and making yarn, and rounds out the trio of techniques that incluse supported spinning and suspended (also referred to as "drop") spinning. Since I am planning to work with my flax crop this year, I thought familiarity with a distaff might be a good thing.

In the hex world, I am completing the third of a series of three signs for a order, with two more orders waiting in the wings. The current hex sign in process is a variation on the Welcome sign and was not easy to draw. Next up are 5 small signs, variations of the "Strength through Community" design for Women's Month, commissioned by a local woman for herself and her sisters. Following that, I have will be painting a custom variation of the welcome motif, featuring a pineapple!

Meanwhile, in the "dream come true" department, I will be picking up an Ashford Traditional spinning wheel on Sunday. This wheel belongs to the sister of one of the ladies that attends a local monthly fiber group. The sister apparently bought it 20 years ago to learn to spin and never used it. She is selling it for an amazingly low price: what she paid for it back then! I had to bite!

And now, as Frigga's day draws to a close, since my Needfire has been completed and the last coat of black paint has been applied to the lettering on the current hex sign in process (reminding me how much I love painting letters and numbers), I will pick up the wool that Tractor Guy has carded and finish the evening, and the week, spinning on the Frigga wheel.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Crazy Things are Happening!

Power through
As Women's Empowerment Month winds down, I still have some of my small, indoor signs for individual strength and power through community connections available for sale. These are limited edition signs for 2018, and when they are gone, they are gone.

That IS a
picnic table!
Meanwhile, we have been working with the result of two nor'easters in two weeks, with little usable melt. In one way, it's a good thing, as I can currently walk the snowshoe-trod path to the truck without putting the "big feet" on. However, it's not so good for Tractor Guy, who still does not have snowshoes (they are really hard to find for really big guys!) so he has to bulldoze through. We now have two paths down to the truck, one for each of us. It does make it easier for me not to have to avoid the chasms his breaking through make.

While the snow has slowed the arrival of spring (to the minds of many, at least; I know it never really springs until later in April) I have been busy with fiber fun. Ply magazine has a newly released issue all about flax and linen and I have been browsing through it a bit. This is in complete contrast to my usual way of doing something I have never done before. Usually I totally thrash around and learn by what happen, and what doesn't. I think the bit of reading I have done constitutes more research on this one topic than on all the other things I've done for the first time, in the past! I am anxious to be able to plant my 4 varieties of flax seed but meanwhile I have been planning and building some distaffs.

Birdcage distaff, complete
except for fiber!
The distaff -- so common in the olden days as a tool for spinning, that it came to be used as a word for womankind, in general -- is not often seen nowadays, nor featured for sale nearly as often as spindles or even spinning wheels. There are free-standing distaffs that are used with a wheel and a multitude of smaller designs to be held in your hand or tucked into a belt and laid over your arm when spindle spinning, or spindling as I have seen it called.

They can be used with wool, though are often considered essential for spinning flax. One of the things I have learned in my recent reading is an alternative way to hold strands of flax, wrapped in a dish towel in you lap and I may try that when I get to that stage of my flax project... many many months from now. For now, playing with distaffs is proving to be fun.

The style that most appeals to me is called the "birdcage" distaff as seen above, and I have thus far made that one, am working on a second and have a smaller third one on my mind. The first two, shown at the right in their initial stages, are 3/4" and 5/8" dowels, with thin wooden disks, 6" in diameter, from the craft store. We located the exact center of the disks and drilled holes of the exact size to fit snugly onto the shafts.  I used a heavier basket weaving reed for the "cage." It needed soaking before being formed around the disk, just as one
Distaff in process - and a
metaphorical self portrait, too!
would if making a basket. The reeds were held in place with pipe clamps until they dried into the proper shape. then the excess was trimmed off, and the reeds were glued permanently in place. I used the pipe clamps, again, to hold them securely.

After this glue dried, I wanted to wrap the top and bottom of the cage area with raffia for decoration, which I did. I secured it with Titebond, as I had the reeds. I felt the wrappings needed a bit of help to stay in place, so I rubbed some of the Titebond into and over the strands, which -- unfortunately -- still shows when it is dry.  I had to hold the ends of the raffia in place until
all of that dried, too. A little tension on the wrapping from tying the ends to the animal crate on which I was working did the trick!

In case you are curious as to what creature is currently inhabiting the crate, let me introduce Buttermilk, the house
chicken! Buttermilk is a Red Ranger meat rooster who managed to elude the "bus to freezer camp" on a friend's homestead. She is a softhearted soul who, each year, had wished to not have to butcher all of the meat birds they raised, so when this one managed to avoid capture, she convinced her husband that it was fate. Buttermilk has been living with their flock, but was having issues with the rooster in their laying flock. After having him and getting to know him so well, they could not bring themselves around to the "delicious solution" and I offered to help them out. They know what his eventual fate will be... and it must be so. These meat birds, also a crossbreed like the better known Cornish cross, are able to forage and are much less likely to develop leg issues and be unable to walk like the Cornish if carried past 10 weeks. However, they do eventually develop issues and being crossbreeds, would not breed true if kept. And we have our new crop of Freedom Rangers chicks coming on April 4. They will need the space in the house that Buttermilk is currently occupying. So, between now and then... a delicious solution will be found.

I am considering, since I usually skin the birds and his plumage is so lovely, of trying to tan his hide, feathers-on of course, to make a hat. We will see if that happens. But meanwhile, it is really a joy to have him for an organic alarm, encouraging me to arise with the dawn, which is quickly receding into the early morning hours. These last couple of weeks, and the next few coming, are one of the two parts of the year when the rate of change of day length is the greatest. And even if you don't mess with the clocks (I don't) it tends to throw everything off. Maybe I need to plan on a house rooster each spring!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Hex-y Fun and Work

24" Abundance, Prosperity and Smooth Sailing though LIfe
on its way to Kansas today!
 The hex sign orders continues to roll in -- and out the door to their new homes. I am currently beginning work on three signs for some new construction in Florida, two at the 24" size and one custom that will be 36" diameter.

At the same time I am gearing up with an unusual "limited edition run" of pre-painted signs. My work is typically by commission only, both on account of the size of much of the work, but also the expense of exterior plywood. However, I was asked by one of the organizers of a local event for Women's Month, to have a small selection of unusually small signs (4-6 inches) relating to women's empowerment, as impulse purchase items at the event.  The top design, looking like a group of dryads communing and quietly channeling a hint of maiden/mother/crone energy is a sign invoking strength through community connections.  The bottom sign, featuring a modern take on the traditional symbol for woman, helps build personal strength and power. I have several color variations in process, which I will share in a later post.

For now, it's time to get back to work while I wait for the predicted late winter snow (10-16" today and tomorrow with a potential for a couple more the following days). For your listening pleasure, I offer "This is Maine, It's Gonna Snow" by local singer/songwriter and Bangor Daily News writer, Troy R. Bennett.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Internet Seduced Me!

I do not recall, now, how I ended up finding it, but I did.

"It" is a spindle, a tool for hand spinning called the "Bristlecone Goddess." Now, you have to understand that spinning is not just a craft I enjoy. I consider it a "witch craft" for those of us who
"goddess" phang spindles
walk and work with the northern Goddess, Frigga. And while this particular shape does not specifically reference the All-Mother in my mind (in trying to describe the shape to a friend, I said it evokes thoughts of an rather elongated Goddess of Willendorf, minus the tits, which would make it spin rather oddly through imbalance, yanno?) And the leap from primitive Earth Mother to northern All-Mother by way of yarn... well that just fits for me. These spindles are, apparently, no longer made.
Spinning with a rock

The discovery of the "Goddess" form sent me on a long and winding journey looking at phang spindles. Phang spindles are a type of support spindle, with no whorl, often a bulge in the middle or two points and a low center of gravity. I have no idea of the origin of the name, nor the original ethnicity of these whorl-less spindles. In point of fact, though, one doesn't even really need a spindle to spin wool, though it does make it much faster! All that is necessary is having fibers more or less aligned and then applying a twist to them. This can be done by rolling on one's leg, twisting between the fingers or using even a straight stick or a rock!

The phang was not the first whorl-less design to catch my eye.
Dealgan in process. Pencil line
indicates the head when finished.
Blood sacrifice included but
not required.
Some time ago I saw a video
of the the Gaelic Dealgan and got Tractor Guy, who has always loved working wood, to try to carve one.  The dealgan is still in process. The first one fell victim to a bad place in thewood. A second is in process (right).  After sharing my new passion with the spinners at a local group, it turns out a friend has a small lathe sitting, unloved, in the attic of her barn and she has offered it to us! And Tractor Guy, having worked, long ago, in a cabinet shop under the direction of a wonderful master wood worker, is excited to be able to find a way to enjoy working wood and supply my curiosity as well! So expect to see many experimental and traditional style worl-less spindles in the future!

One thing I learned along the way is that, apparently, "drop spindle" is an American term. To most of the rest of the word they are just spindles used with a variety of techniques. The term "suspended spinning" most correlates with our drop spindling. I have seen a single whorl-less spindle used with support, suspended and with a technique called "grasped" spinning.
So, yeah, I am curious. And charting new territory, as I have never been one to learn well, easily or with much enjoyment from the video format. I have a local mentor for supported spindle technique, but none that I know of for the more European suspended or grasped methods. So I am attending class with "Professor You Tube." I didn't like, or learn easily from all of my teachers in college either!

Center, bottom whorl made from CD
Left, right top whorl commercial spindles
I currently have three "American style drop" spindles. displayed here on the Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign that I am painting! (shameless self promotion du jour) I am planning to add several non-whorl spindles as time goes on and we have tools... and when TG gets the hand carved one done it may be the first of those. Unfortunately, he rather damaged his hand today using a miniature spokeshave -- which worked well on the dealgan but less so with big fingers. Once we get the lathe here we will begin playing with easily available, mostly soft woods. Acquiring specialty woods and appropriate chunks of hardwoods will require day trips to one of two sources on the coast.

As I move ahead with all this exploration, it has become obvious that I "need" a distaff! One has been on my list for a while, and I even bought some heavier basket making reed to use to form the "birdcage" in the style I favor (shown being "dressed in this video).  Today I picked up some dowels, but realized once I got home that I need a light weight wooden disk to drill and slip onto the dowel to help form the shape. I will pick that up in town on Friday.

And that is the report for the week from hex central, under the sign of the Fussing Duck...where the snow is melting, the maple sap is running (so my friend with trees tell me) and talking heads at the weather desk are calling for another nor'easter.