Monday, March 12, 2018

Only A Musician Will Understand

King Óengus (the 19-string Pixie Harp): You've learned Carrickfergus well. Your fingers are feeling more natural on the strings. You know how to pick out tunes much easier and in different keys. Now play a new song.

What will I play next?

You have a song in your fingers. Find the strings and begin to play., I find a string and begin to pluck it, and the next, and the next. Soon, I find I'm playing "Down By The Sally Gardens." It just happened -- and there I was finding the melody; and what happens next...picking chords with my left. I'm not sure what's happening, at this point. My fingers are being driven, and I'm simply letting it happen.

Lady Jane (the 12-string Baby Harp):
I'll sing that one.

...but, your Highness, you're strung for C. I'm actually limited.

Lady Jane:
...then you may tune my strings for B-flat and use them all.

So, of course, out comes the tuning hammer and she is tuned for B-flat, and away I go.

Now, I've been playing different instruments from my youth; reading and studying music for years and trying to keep the theory lessons of many years ago as fresh in my brain as I can.  I still feel that child-like wonder when picking up an instrument for the first time and being able to play something.  Don't ever expect to hear me on the stage at Carnegie Hall nor traveling hither and yon on a world tour.  I've never even joined any small community band or orchestra.  Perhaps one of these days, I'll find myself in an ensemble, but, mostly, music is played to have music in the house and to keep my soul tended.  I am, very much, a musician and have been one for years.  Of course, I'm still doing my lessons and exercises to continue learning technique and I'm still very much a beginner, still learning to [actually] play the harp as a whole.  Since only learning for just over a year, however, I am confident, at this point, that I've finally gotten to know -- to really know -- the both of them.  Aside from their physical differences (size, number of strings, one with tuning levers and the other without, etc.) they are two different beings, with two different voices and two different sets of behaviours...even their strings play differently, even if they are the same note in the same tune with each other.

 ...and can anyone wonder why the harp is the most enchanting of instruments?

 They tell me what THEY desire.  It's up to my fingers to make their voices be heard.  In turn, I'm blessed by a magick which only a musician will understand.

Stamp Collecting: History and Hope

I spent time with my stamp collection this evening which means I also spent time with a bunch of memories from home, growing up.  My beginnings of collecting stamps started with Grama and Aunt Chris. Hours upon hours, we would stand over the kitchen table spread out with hundreds and hundreds of stamps, soaked and dried and ready to be sorted to go into the book(s).

'thing is, a single stamp could spark hours of conversation.  Aunt Chris would talk about her memories with Grama and then they would tell me the stories of the goings on through the nineteen-fifties and all through the sixties.

I was hooked, not only to collecting stamps, but, also, the stories.  Since Grama raised my brother and I in a style that drew experience from The Great Depression all the way through the end of the Vietnam War, I felt a connection to all of that history.  The textbooks in school could tell us the bare-bones facts about what happened, but, to hear of the experiences first-hand was golden to me.

Tonight, I was reminded of those times when I was brought back to the past.  I would take a look at a single stamp and remember back thirty years ago to the same stamp on the kitchen table, and hearing the conversations -- literally hearing the voices of Grama and Aunt Chris going on about life, in general.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Gnomespun Mountain Paths

So, THIS has been a journey.  I spun the Gnomespun first and plied it with plain undyed; yielded just over 8oz/510yd.

Holy yardage!!! 

Spinning the plies took days and days and days.  Granted., I did have other projects on the wheel, but, when I count the time spinning each project, I find I'm counting the time each is on their respective bobbins.  That being noted, the other stuff still didn't take as long.

Much of the time was spent lovingly pre-drafting the roving.  This is a beautiful variegated roving and I knew that while I was not going to ply it onto itself, fully intending to marl it with the undyed, I was, going to make sure that each colour was going to be unique and have its own place in the single as it was being spun.  Even at that, was looking at the roving and pulling another length to predraft and then spin and repeat and repeat and repeat --  and it still kept coming.  Of course, I enjoyed the process and loved every minute of getting that twist into the fibres and watching the strands being made and then being pulled onto the bobbin.

Plying took an accumulated approximate five hours spread over four mornings before work.  It was neverending. Not counting the days and days of spinning both plies, I ended up still with not enough of the undyed top, so, I had to rob from the cops of my dealgean, Navajo spindle, and drop spindle. I finally ended up with this lovely marled yarn.  

It took three mini baths just to shift the dirt from its making; it soaked overnight to set the twist and took a couple days' hanging to dry afterward.

I don't recall if I've ever spun Domestic Debouillet, but, it's not so horrible.  It's a nice break from my beloved Romney.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Long Live The Queen

A couple months ago, I was introduced to my first spinning wheel.  She found me, although, I won't deny that as soon as we walked into that antiques mall, I was almost hoping to find one...but she found me.

She is a she, however, I didn't know her name, yet.  In time, I figured, I will know what to call her, but, for then, she is just simply "my wheel" and the pronouns are "she" and "her."

She does a wonderful job spinning.  All of the parts are in working order and, in fact, you can tell that she was well-used and loved so dearly in her past life, as she does have minor repairs on the pedal and the wheel.

She hadn't been used in a while and seemed creaky and wobbly.  Oh, I knew she needed some work, however, I still wanted to see how she did from the treadle of a new and unfamiliar foot -- and she did marvelously!  When I first started spinning with her, I had her in a couple of bandages -- plain strips of cloth placed and tied in the right places to make it work:  one in the cradle of the orifice under the brake band on the mother of all and the other around the bobbin pin in the flyer as the pin was wobbly and not seated firmly, causing the arms of the flyer to wobble and scrape the bottom arm of the mother of all.  Over the next week, I taped one end of the bobbin pin with masking tape and replaced (forced) it back in its seat by the orifice and it barely even moved.  The wobble was gone!  The cloth bandages were removed and she was working just as if she was never given up for sale.

I searched resources to find out more about her.  I learned the very basics from a posted failed ebay sale that she is a Dutch wheel, most likely made in the mid-1970s, and according to the description on ebay a Delft wheel made by Richard Wernerkinck, the CEO of that company, who is still alive and still running that company and is on LinkedIn -- or so I thought about him as the maker .  I also decided to send a picture of her and the ebay listing to a group on Ravelry, as my friend, Aaron, suggested, hoping to find more information, otherwise, I figured, I'll just continue to get to know her and she'll reveal herself in her own time.

'turns out she is not, in fact, a Wernerkinck Delft wheel.  From the "Working Wheels" group on Ravelry, a woman in The Hague, who is a collector of vintage wheels posted the link from her blog showing brochures for many vintage wheels, including my wheel!  It was, indeed, mass-produced, throughout the late '70s-early '80s but by a company called "Befra" and name of the line was called "Willy" named after Queen Wilhelmina.

...and there was her name:  Queen Wilhelmina, named after the line of mass-produced, manufactured, nameless spinning wheels -- which was named after the most powerful  Dutch monarch, herself, who carried her world into the 20th Century.  I couldn't think of another name, nothing else was conceive-able -- besides, she was the one finally telling me.  It was like a revelation, similar to Jean Valjean or Anastasia -- she was right there among the masses and no one knew until that very moment.

I think of the irony of just a day earlier, me bowing to her feet, oiling the hinges on her pedal -- attending to Her Majesty's squeak (which probably could have been heard all the way TO The Hague from here in Portland, Maine) and just this weekend, my friend, Aaron helped me get her all cleaned up and greased and lubricated.

...but name or no name, history or no history, I began loving her from the moment she caught my eye and she continued to beckon and I couldn't let her go.  I came to later find out that Kevin was saving up to get me a brand new wheel, so, contributed what he was saving to half of my purchase -- and the rest of the story is yarn.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Winter Blast, Re-carded Wool, and Mormons

At work, the other day was a bad day.  That's all I can say about it -- no consolation -- it was simply a bad day; and bad days happen.  Between being short-staffed and extra client concerns about the call centres handling their special instructions during the multiple closures due to the storm, internal strife was extremely high today.  When a third of the clients along the East Coast are out and turning the phones to the agents, inter-departmental bickering would best wait until after things have settled down.
...but no. 

While I was dealing with several agent issues and errors in dispatching messages, etc.,  I have two different people from our sales department feel the need to run the show with their issues.  The worst thing that can ever happen in a large corporation with several departments is for one department to begin to tell those from another what to do -- not only the act, itself but, even worse, to copy the client in an email -- making themselves out to attempting to look good and the rest of us naughty little children that need to do our jobs like we're supposed to do; and even worse than that -- to BLIND copy your boss and you are on the verge of getting written up.

Management in any capacity isn't all its cracked up to be.  You get it from all ends.

After logging out, after supper, I thought a nice bit of spinning would help, but, I seemed to be more tense than usual and so, I ended up with a lot broken yarn and bits and pieces filling the top of my spinning trunk more than what was being spun into yarn.  I realised right then and there that I needed to calm my nerves and relax just enough to do the thing that was going to relax me and take away my tension built up over the past ten hours; kind of priming the pump.

So, the first thing I did was throw my spindle onto the bat of wool on the couch and go take a shower.  If I were to hold that thing one more second, I was probably going to do worse than just throw it.  While I was in the shower, I just let the water run over me and try to wash my tension away -- some of it.

A thought came to me:  I can use my brand new carders to card out all of that stringy mess and re-spin the wool!  Since an overpayment to the State of Maine was made from my wages in the form of taxes was returned to me, a trip to Halcyon in Bath afforded me a few tools, including a set of carders as my plans for the future are to get some raw fleeces for a good price and I needed to practice carding anyway, having never done it before.  I also had a bat of wool that was somewhat carded on a drum carder, but, still needed a bit of work, so, I decided to practice with that.

My first place to go, of course, was the YouTube so that I could see some demonstrations on wool carding.  What was I to behold before typing in the search for carding wool?  The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's most recent episode of "Music And The Spoken Word"  I actually quite like that program (different story for different time) and I love hearing the songs and hymn by such a beautiful choir, so I opened a new tab with the program and then stopped the stream and went back to watching demonstrations on carding wool and immediately began carding both the wool from the bat and the monstrous bits that came from earlier in the day.

...and then onto the Choir!  Something moved me about them and just finding them by happenstance on the front page of the YouTube -- something was asking me to do exactly what I was doing.  Rolag after rolag, song after song, and in between it all, gazing out into the beautiful, heavenly snowstorm -- three hours later, I ended up spinning the entire bat and was ready to ply it!  My nerves and my spirit were well rested and at peace.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Cream Tea Success

Inspired by Ruth Goodman in the Edwardian Farm series, I became fascinated with the concept of making clotted cream and having a Devonshire cream tea right here in Maine (five time zones away), but, here in Portland, I don't have the access to easily get some raw, unprocessed milk to let the cream rise overnight; nor to cook it in a bain-marie over a steady coal fire in the iron potbelly stove; so, I began searching and searching recipes for how to do the best I could with the local, or even regional local (because it's fresher) ultra-pasturised heavy cream and the rest of the modern equipment.  I discovered on many other sites and blogs a way to do it in the oven -- open and in direct heat -- and every account I read stated that it was just as good as the farmhouse cream (cream that's risen to the top of the milk overnight, and cooked in the same milk and skimmed off in the morning.)

Clotted Cream
The best cream to use is fresh, that has been stood to rise from fresh milk, but, store-bought will work.  Ultra-pasteurised heavy cream will clot nicely, but, the flavour will be a little less robust and the crust, a little less golden -- only a little less, but, the taste is still amazing!  When cooked long enough at just the right temperature, the clots will be nice and heavy; the texture, a cross between whipped cream and butter, and tastes just as rich.

Stand a quart of cream in a quart-and-a-half baking dish open overnight (I stood mine in my Corningware baking dish right in the room-temperature oven.)  First thing in the morning, turn on the oven to 170-175F.  The general consensus from my research seems to lean even further toward 180, however, all of that was based on making cream with non-pasteurised, so, I decided to cook my cream at a lower temperature hoping the cream would clot a bit better. Cook the cream for eight or nine hours. Gently remove the dish with the cream from the oven without agitating the crust and then cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate it open overnight.  Next morning, skim the crust and the clots underneath with a slotted spoon or any other kind of skimmer with holes to drain the liquid.  Make sure that the skimmer goes well beneath the clots under the crust so that they are all skimmed together.  Place the skimmings in layers in a dish and then stir it all together until it's textured, but, smooth.

Clotted Cream Leavings
After skimming the clotted cream, the leavings leftover can be used for baking.  My cream was still thick enough and plenty, so, I decided to churn it for butter (it took longer than regular churning as most of the fats were clotted during the cooking -- the rest left over will be a bit more sparse.

Use the butter and buttermilk to make cut rounds.

Cut Rounds
Cut rounds are more like American buttermilk biscuits, but rolled into a sausage and cut into discs, instead of rolled out and cut with a cutter.

Preheat the oven to 450F.  Using the butter and buttermilk from the leavings, for a cup of flour, blend in about a third to a half a cup of butter.  Add to it, a tablespoon of baking powder and a teaspoon of salt and about a third to a half a cup of the buttermilk until it makes a nice dough.  Roll it into a fat sausage and cut rounds off of the end all the way down.  Put them into the oven and bake until they have risen and then reduce the heat to between 425 and 400 and then finish baking them until they're done.

Cream Tea
When the cut rounds are cool enough, split a round in half and butter each half; spread some strawberry jam or apple jelly and then top it with the clotted cream.  Serve it with a good tea.  I like Earl Grey, black, without cream or sugar.

Friday, July 15, 2016

It Started With Her

Grama taught me how to knit.

I was five years old and it began with five stitches neatly cast onto a size 7 double pointed needle; after about fifteen minutes, question after question, attempt after attempt, five clumsily knit stitches managed to get themselves onto the other needle...

...about a year and a half later, five stitches turned to ten, fifteen, twenty, and the ability to read a pattern and further learning in the "Bernat Book Of Complete Knitting" that she dug out of her collection of pattern books and gave me, where I learned the proper name "garter stitch" which was the beautiful rows and rows of ridges -- knitting even on two needles back and forth...just plainly knit...knit...knit over and over again.  

I was in love.

A few years after my love affair with the craft began, she partnered with her eldest daughter, my Aunt Chris, and opened "The Craft and Yarn Shop" which began in her small living room on James Street in Biddeford, Maine, and then moved to a nice mall during the summer in a favorite tourist town, Old Orchard Beach, and, then again, back to the house on James Street.

When the two women weren't doing affairs with the shop, they stayed on the fair circuit and traveled 'round Maine with their crafts.  Oh, the days that I miss:  seeing the booth set up in the house with all of the crafts on the shelves, ready for pictures to be taken for the next application; even better, seeing the booth set up at the fair -- and if not the big booth, most certainly the rented table stacked and filled to capacity.

We children did get to see a bit of Maine just by traveling to these destinations.  

After a few years, the shop closed, the fair dates grew fewer, but the crafting still went on and on in the form of charity work -- now, of course, knitting wasn't the only craft involved, but, memories of mittens and hats and booties and slippers and afghans -- and seeing them being put in boxes or bags to bring to someone less fortunate than those of us who had such luxuries.  

Years later, I, myself, decided to go the charity route and knit simple sweaters and booties and hats especially for preemies -- the littlest of all people -- brand new in this world.  

As I knit daily, I finally did develop some other patterns with some inspiration from some people closest to me, but most of all, the drive and common sense and just the simple pure love of knitting instilled in me by Grama, who has passed on, leaving me just that much empty -- for what she began so many years ago, I would only wish that she would be around to see what was to come of her lessons; a part of her, though, shall live on in the following pages -- at least the bits of knitting stories and journals and a pattern or two, of which, to her, are most warmly dedicated.