Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Painting and Painting

I have been painting and painting, in between spinning and knitting and sewing curtains. Here is our dining room before, painted (by someone else) an uninteresting and rather dark shade of brown/beige/cafe au lait. Call it what you will, it really bothered me and this room was therefore underutilized except for my computing and flipping paper messes here and there. It also had those heavy wooden blinds that made everything seem dark and that always featured a good coat of impossible-to-remove dust that wafted in from the surrounding agricultural lands.

This is the room that you see when coming in the front door. No one knew what to call it; I thought it was too small for a living room, but just the right size for a dining room, since the kitchen is the next room you come to. After a bit of rearranging (something we love to do) a dining room is just what it became for Thanksgiving. 

Give me a day and I will show you the cheery results of paint and new curtains. Stay tuned. I sure do hope you like it!

By the way, please note the chicken cabinet, which has been with us in several of the places we've lived. We never have been very grown-up about furniture.

The chicken cabinet in our red New Hampshire living room

Monday, November 28, 2011


When I first retired and started writing this blog, my profile included this statement : 

Who knew that retirement would be so much fun? I enjoyed working with kids and books and technology as a school librarian, but now I love having time to myself for walking, riding my bike, taking photos, reading, researching, volunteering, knitting, writing, gardening, and blogging.

Well, who knew that retirement would hold such surprises? I just updated that rather solitary-sounding list of individual (or couple) activities to include, first on the list: 

but now I love having time to get together with friends

We've only lived here for two years now, but I had to smile when I looked out at all the cars parked along the road on Thanksgiving Day. We had a dozen friends at the table, and most of them are people we didn't know when we first moved here. 

Good old Las Cruces--it's a friendly place and we are so lucky to have so many wonderful new friends. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spinning Kai: All Done!

See the complete series of posts on spinning Kai Llama's fiber, from fleece to yarn. 

After spinning, plying, and skeining the llama fiber, I washed the skeins gently in warm, soapy water. The thing to remember with wool, and presumably with llama, is to avoid agitation in the water and to keep the water temperature constant when moving the skeins from soapy water to rinse water. The skeins may be very gently squeezed to remove water, but must never be wrung out. As a matter of fact, if you want to make felt, you just alternate hot and cold water and agitate a lot: To keep yarn fluffy and intact, just do the opposite. 

The damp skeins are then hung up to dry. Single strand yarn must be weighted at this point to help set the twist; with plied yarn weighting isn't necessary. 

The Kai yarn looking very decorative while drying

A bunch of Kai

When dry, the skeins can be twisted with the ends tucked in. I have labeled each one with the yardage. I wanted to share some alpaca and soft wool with Danni, so I am also sending along the skeins below.

Plied alpaca on the left, very soft wool singles on the right
The llama, alpaca, and wool yarns are all boxed up, addressed, and ready to go down to the Post Office and off to Danni in Oregon. I can't tell you how relieved I am to have this project completed! Besides that, I just discovered that this will be my 1000th post on The Zees Go West--what a great feeling of accomplishment!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Polishing Off the Projects: The Log Cabin Blanket

Log Cabin Blanket
Knit with yarn left over from Knit for Kids sweaters

A couple of weeks ago I woke in the night to a feeling that I hadn't experienced since retiring: I was worried about getting through all the stuff that I needed to do. I had made promises to other people and to myself and was feeling pressured about getting things done. 

In the morning, I glanced at my horoscope and this is what I saw: 

"You have a lot to get done, but you will get it done. 
Simply focus on one project after another."

Well! I never look at horoscopes, let alone let them guide my days, but this one was just perfect. Never mind that it could apply to anyone, especially during the holidays when we all feel a little pressure of one sort or another. 

I got myself back in order after seeing those words. After all, I am retired, and my time is my own. I take on projects because I like to do them, and I have convinced my family that gifts that are received on dates other than Christmas or birthdays are not late gifts, but wonderful surprises. There is no need to get in a swither!

Since that lovely Horoscope Day, I have lined up the projects and finished them off, one by one. I have remembered to enjoy the journey and to stop fretting about the destination and, in doing so, have found that one project after another has been completed. The llama fiber is all spun and goes into the mail today; the log cabin blanket has been assembled and is keeping me warm; socks have been knitted; the dining room has been painted, curtains have been sewn, and so on.  What doesn't get done today will eventually get done. 

My horoscope promised me, and it must be so! 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Spinning Kai: Plying and Skeining

This is the process of spinning Kai llama's fiber, continued. You can see all the previous steps here.

Once the yarn is spun, it winds around a bobbin. When each bobbin is full, I replace it on the spinning wheel with an empty one. The full ones go on this holder so that the single strands can be plied, or twisted together. The strands are plied in the opposite direction that they were spun, so if the wheel was turning clockwise to spin the single strands, I turn it counterclockwise to ply the strands together. 

In this instance, I am making two-ply yarn, but three or more strands can be plied together. Most commercial knitting yarn, of the sort that I used to make little kid sweaters, is four-ply. 

In the photo below, I am controlling the amount of twist as the two strands are plied together. 

In the next photo, you can see (although the focus is poor) how the strands go together.

Next, the plied yarn is wound off the bobbin on the wheel and onto the niddy noddy, a nice old-fashioned tool that holds the yarn taut while it is being wound into a skein. I measured the length of one wrap around and found that it was about one yard, so I counted as I wound to get a very approximate measurement for the whole skein. I wanted Kai's yarn to end up in 50-yard skeins, but there were a few odd ones from the end of each bobbin.

Once the skein is made, the beginning and the end are tied together, and the skein is secured in several places with some string. Then the skeins are all ready to be washed. Stay tuned--we are getting near the end of the process!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Spinning Kai: Spinning on the Wheel At Last

For the previous posts on the Spinning Kai project, click here.

It seems that this project, spinning up a bunch of llama fiber for Danni in Oregon, has taken far longer than it should have. Of course, life has intervened, and it wasn't just a matter of spending a straight week working on this pile of fiber. There were trips to be taken, friends to help move, blankets to knit, people to entertain, dinner parties to give and to go to, and so on. In other words, this project has been done in classic New Mexican Time--slow and easy. 

At last, all the fiber was picked and carded. I had split the fleece that Danni sent into two parts, half for Danni and half for me. When Danni's part was all carded into rolags (fluffy rolls of fiber), there were four or five baskets full of them. Here is part of one basketful in the photo below. This was before Keeker the cat decided to take a cozy nap in the basket. Ah, well, never mind. Kee enjoyed herself and the fiber was no worse for the experience. 

The spinning wheel, which I had heedlessly stored out in the garage, needed weeks of coddling and oiling before it consented to work again. Never again will I treat it so carelessly: It will live right here inside the thick adobe walls of our little desert house--no more parching and baking out in the garage. 

At first, when I couldn't get the old spinning wheel to work at all, I imagined that I might have to buy another wheel--very expensive now--in order to keep my promise to Danni. Then I thought I might have to use a Navajo spindle and do the whole thing the really, really slow way. However, the situation resolved itself as so many things do--I oiled and oiled and oiled every part of the spinning wheel, and when nothing worked, just left it for a while. Amazingly, when I returned to the wheel a few days ago, I found that with a few quick adjustments, it worked just as well as it ever did. 

Although the wheel isn't spinning yet in the photo above, you can see that I have attached the end of the rolag to the leader yarn, and have begun to draft it--pulling the rolag back and back, and back some more, feeding out the fibers in a "V," then allowing the spinning of the wheel to apply twist, which evens out along the length of the fiber. When it is all fairly even, I let it feed in through the orifice and around the bobbin.

It's a soothing thing to do, once you have the hang of it. Your foot rhythmically treadles the wheel which spins around, and you alternately pull the fiber back and feed it in. In my younger days, I found it very relaxing. Now I find that after a few hours I get a little achy, but it's still a pleasurable thing to do.

Now that all the fiber has been spun, in the next few posts I will show you the final steps in this process--plying, skeining, washing, and setting the twist. My sister keeps observing that it is ridiculously labor-intensive to make yarn this way, and she is right. However, it's a wonderful thing to know how to do.

Here is a very quick video that shows a newer version of the Ashford Traditional Wheel, which arrives as a kit, is put together, then put to work. The spinner in the video uses the short draw technique of spinning, where the hands of the spinner are never very far apart.

I use the long draw method, demonstrated by the spinner in this video.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Behind Door Number Three: The Egg Story

Way down in southern New Mexico
In a green valley 
Along the Rio Grande

There is a pecan orchard

And in the middle of that orchard 
You will see a little adobe house
And a little adobe garage

And next to the adobe garage sits a little chicken house...

(Click to enlarge any of these pictures)

That little chicken house has three little doors.

Each little door leads to a little nest, but the best door of all is Door Number Three.

That's because behind Door Number Three, you will find...

Oh, no. Look out! It's Bitey Albertina and she is giving us that look.
Even though she pecks my arms, Bitey Albertina and her two Peckatini Sisters, 
Lizzie and Meg, give us three eggs every single day. 

The brown egg on the right comes from Bitey Albertina,
the other brown egg is from Liz, and the green egg comes from Green-Legged Meg.
Now, how many of you know the name of the hen who laid your breakfast egg?

If you would like to see some other home-grown eggs, check out Georgia's post, The Size, Shape, and Color of My Eggs

And while we're on the subject of hens, I forgot to tell you that November 5th was Hug Your Chicken Day! I'm sure it's not too late--you can still hug the first chicken you see today. You might consider wearing an apron, though.