Saturday, August 16, 2008

Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?

What are you wearing right now? Is it knitted or woven? Is it made from natural or synthetic fibers? Where were the fibers grown? How was the fabric processed? Not something you think about when you slip a sweater over your head in the morning is it?

I like to knit (btw I also like to crochet - I try not to be exclusive about my crafting). My current project is a sweater and I'm pretty excited about it because it's my first garment with shape - to date I've only knitted baby blankets and scarves. I'll post photos of the sweater later. The point of this story is to relate Brian's adventures in wool processing. I think the adventure started when I spent about $120 on 450 grams of wool for my sweater; Brian then decided that it would be both fun and cost effective to get involved in my fiber arts :) And of course, wool is a staple Australian commodity; there are sheep everywhere.

So here we go - the story of wool in nine "easy" steps/photos:

I'll give you one guess as to where Brian went to buy a sack of raw wool...

If you guessed eBay, you clearly know Brian well :) The wool arrived in a feed sack with the top sewn up and our address scribbled on the side. Here's a close up view of the fibers.

The first step was to wash the wool and get some of the dirt and lanolin out. We washed it in hot and soapy water being careful not agitate the wool as this is what causes felting, not the hot water itself. I had some moments of panic at the thought of what this might to do the washing machine but Google assured us that it was okay. And it was, after a hot and soapy rinse to clean out the basin once the wool was removed.

Then we laid the wool out on towels on the floor and let it dry. Then we sorted through all of it to get out the bits of plant matter. Below, you'll see two piles of wool (this isn't even all of it), the pile in the back has been sorted so it's fluffier.

A close-up of the fluffy and clean wool.

Brian carding the wool by hand with his new hand carders.

Once the wool has been carded, you roll it into little sausages called rolags to make it easier to spin.

Brian using a drop spindle to spin a single ply yarn.

Next, two single ply yarns are spun together to create a double ply yarn as seen below. You can use single ply yarns for weaving, but knitting is better with double ply yarn.

Neat, eh? Three kilos of raw wool, the hand carders and the drop spindle cost about $100 (could have been as low as 50$ if we made our own drop spindle and bought used carders) so the process was indeed cost effective, though we haven't factored in time. As skill increases, it will get easier and faster so hard to say on the time commitment. That's not why we do it anyway.

Lessons learned? Many websites say to wash the wool first but having spoken to people who've done this, it seems that spinning it first is perhaps better because when the lanolin is still in the wool it slides along nicer. Drop spinning is the low tech spinning option but a spinning wheel would be MUCH faster and allow you to focus more on the thickness and consistency of the yarn. We're hoping to take a class at the local spinners and weavers club.

Hooray, an authentic Australian adventure! Now if we just learn to wrangle and shear the sheep...

Candy Self-Deprecation

Starburst didn't really think through the name of this lollipop, did they?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Weekend in Melbourne

Two weekends away in a row....I tell ya, either nothing interesting is happening at all or it's all happening at once. In fact this weekend I had the chance to attend three separate training workshops. I would have loved to have participated in each of them, but of course I had to pick one. So, I went with two of my work colleagues to a facilitator training session offered by the Change Agency in Melbourne. I flew out first thing on Friday morning and after a flight that took fifteen extra minutes because of a 300 kilometre per hour headwind and then rush hour traffic, I arrived at the training, relieved that I wasn't late because the trainers were stuck in the same traffic.

So Friday and Saturday were filled with sessions where we explored how to best manage group process ie. games and icebreakers, eliciting good discussion, guiding brainstorming, dealing with difficult people and conflict, etc. This is all part of my training to be a GreenSteps trainer (the environmental change management course I mentioned in my Rainy Sunday post), but I see it as being valuable for many of the programs I run.

Brian flew in to Melbourne late Friday evening and spent Saturday with our friend Chris, drinking Chris' home-brewed Wasabi Beer and making pumpkin pies :) Then we spent Sunday together wandering through the Queen Victoria Markets and around the city. And there was lots of eating. My friend Felicity and I had dinner together on Friday evening at an Indian Restaurant on Lygon Street (we happened to be staying in a hotel on a street noted for its restaurants). We ordered three dishes to share (Malai Kofta - my favorite Indian dish, a dhal, and butter prawns) along with saffron rice, mango lassis, and gulab jamun and masala chai for desert. We pretty much rolled our stuffed selves back to our hotel. The rest of the weekend continued to be about food. Saturday evening was Mexican; we went out of our way to go this Mexican restaurant recommended by one of my work mates, but I continue to be disappointed by Australia's version of Mexican food. The spices are all wrong, the black beans are not real black beans, and the salsa, well, the portions were meager and didn't have nearly enough lime or cilantro. I'm eating Mexican food every day when we come home!

We flew back to Canberra late Sunday evening; nothing noteworthy about the trip other than the fact that the pilot announced when we were flying over Bonnie Doon, Victoria. I realise that reference will be lost on many of you, but it comes from an Australian film called The Castle, which if you can find, will have you in stitches, especially if you've ever visited Australia.

I decided that since I "worked" on Saturday, I deserved most of Monday off. I slept in and went to work around 11am to get a few things I needed to prepare before Tuesday and then of course didn't manage to actually leave work again until 3pm or so. In the meantime though, I had a really nice picnic lunch with my friends Clare, who I sit next to but enjoy chatting with about things other than work, Millie, who's just returned from a jaunt around Western Australia, and Hedda, who's about to move to Melbourne.

I forgot to bring my camera to Melbourne, hence the lack of imagery. Sorry about that. Okay, must do the dishes now. It's my turn.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Big River Doula

My amazingly beautiful friend Katherine has started a new business in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a postpartum doula offering support for new parents on everything from breastfeeding education to sibling transition. How cool is that?

Check out her website at (it's worth looking at just for the sweet photos!). I think this service would be an amazing gift for new parents so if you know of anyone in the Twin Cities who is starting or expanding their family, this could be a great baby shower gift!

All the best to you Katherine!