Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Can't Sleep. Too Many Ideas

It's 5:45, and I've been awake since about 2. Last night I had pottery club, so spent a couple hours glazing but didn't work on anything else. Oh, and Monday I got my pottery workroom all tidied and scrubbed up, too.

Apparently, I fell asleep with clay on the brain, because I woke up just swimming in ideas! First, that I need to make a Tim See "magic box" or two this morning. This is just a lidded plastic bin (like a sterlite tote) with a layer of plaster poured into the bottom. Turns out, if you keep leather-hard clay in this box with cured but damp plaster in the bottom....IT WILL STAY PERFECTLY LEATHER-HARD. Indefinitely workable. Pulled handles forever at the perfect stage for attachment. Porcelain stamp blanks, ready to carve into stamps at a moment's notice.

The part that REALLY kept me awake, though, was realizing that I could make mugs, cover them with slip or underglaze in prep for sgraffito carving, and then store them in the box until someone can get to them. I say someone, because I don't actually want to ruin my nice throwing with decorative ineptitude. Instead, I have another idea, and that's the part that's keeping me awake.

In my last blog entry, I mentioned Dave, who agreed to play trivia with me every weekend. Well, we've been hanging out quite a bit, as you do when you find someone so easy to talk to, right? Anyway, he's not only a very good artist....he also has a very sure hand when it comes to drawing. I think he's a lot like my grandpa - has the ability to see the drawing before it's drawn, and just goes about filling in the lines, you know? So I think he should try his hand at a bit of sgraffito carving on some of my pottery....but I can't run the idea by him yet because it's too early. Highly aggravating. But my mind just keeps running with it, so I'm imagining forms, and what slip colors I'd want used, and how to work around mug handles, and if I should get Emily in on this deal, too.... GAH!!

And THEN, when I manage to shut down the pottery ideas for a bit, my brain just switches over to the other thing that's been occupying it since Sunday - Lever Knitting.

Lever knitting is a very old knitting technique that "cottage industry" producers use to knit very quickly without as much fatigue and repetitive-motion strain. The Yarn Harlot has been working to give the technique a comeback, and my friend Pamela took a class on it at a fiber retreat a week or so ago, and her practice photos intrigued me, so I decided to give it a try.

It involves the use of a static needle, held in place by something other than your hand, leaving the right hand free to only manipulate the yarn using more efficient motions than throwing, and less wrist-action than picking (Continental). So to start, you clamp the end of a long needle under your right armpit, then use the left hand to manipulate the stitches from the right needle into the left one. The yarn is tensioned interestingly around the middle and ring fingers of the right hand, and you use a swinging motion to wrap the yarn for the stitches. And unlike trying to learn continental knitting, purling is just as easy and efficient as knitting, which is what sold me. I hate purling.

Starting learning to knit this way was SUPER awkward. I'm not used to tensioning yarn around my fingers, and I'm not used to working with straight needles, either. I ended up posting videos for Pamela to look at, just to see if I was on the right track....thankfully I was. It's definitely getting better with practice - I sat at the bar and knitted for a bit while hanging out with Dave, and the next morning chilled at the coffee shop where he works and put in a couple more hours of practice. I'm definitely faster now than I was doing non-tensioned throwing.

Progress isn't too shabby - apart from a couple unintentional yarn-overs, I'm doing just fine, I think!

So that's what I've been up to, and now it's time to get kids up and bundled off to school. Then I can get some plaster mixed up and poured, and can go down to the coffee shop to gabble excitedly at Dave about pottery carving, and practice lever knitting for a bit. Have a great morning, everyone!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, February 12, 2015

That Magical Age

Everyone in my house has reached the size where we can share shirts, socks, and shoes. It's a little weird. Nothing is safe!!

Bobby turns 10 today! They have a 4-day weekend from school this week, so they're having their Valentine party today - nice for me, because I don't feel pressured to bring treats. Some other ambitious mom can do that. I went all-out last year for Bub's birthday, so this year is a LOT more chill. At his request, we made Minecraft Valentine Cootie-Catchers for him to hand out today.

Still working on the housecleaning - I got the back room and laundry area at the bottom of the stairs completely cleared out, which was very satisfying. Also, everyone has socks now. Good wool ones. That match.

Moved on to Zone 2: Kitchen and Dining Room this week. It's slow going. I'm just not feeling the motivation. Still, I did manage to clear the huge pile of accumulated recycling that built up because the closet was full, and I bought two carts of bulk bins to store dry goods in.

I was astounded at how expensive these things are. But it gets my 50 lb bags of flour and oats and such up off the floor, so it was money well-spent. Everything is right there under the counter.

Pottery Club was Tuesday, and I had played with some of the new glazes that Jim and I picked out for the club. The two I was most excited about were a White Satin/Matte that is supposed to be blendable with Nutmeg, and a really pretty shade of lavender called Lana's Purple.
I walked into the kiln room on Tuesday, looked at the cart full of glaze-fired stuff, and shouted "Oh my gosh! OH MY GOSH!!!" Everyone thought something bad had happened! But no, it was just me, 100% THRILLED with my glaze results!

Isn't it gorgeous?!? I can't wait to try it on a white clay now.
I also glazed the yarn bowls I had tried making, and they turned out ok. They did slump a bit in the firing - that little tongue of unsupported clay is just a bit too much weight, I guess, so it moved down and out a bit.

Last time I was in Julienne Tomatoes, Tom informed me that I needed to get cracking on some new mugs, 'cause everything sold over Christmas! So I worked on those, using a different clay that I hadn't tried before.

It's a white stoneware called Mill Creek, and it's a lot less groggy than the clay I'm used to throwing. It centered beautifully, but I had to be careful not to over-work it because it REALLY wanted to slump if I wasn't careful.
Jim took a few pictures of me working on the wheel.

On Sundays, I usually go out to City Park Grill where my friend Shawn hosts a Trivia Night. Last week's topic was Robin Williams, so I sat and studied up a bit while I ate some dinner and waited for Shawn to get there. Lucky for me, though, an acquaintance walked in for a drink and a bite, and sat down next to me. I asked him if he was there to play trivia with me, and he agreed to stay and be on my team. We won!

Had a great time playing and talking, and we decided that we'd make it a weekly thing. So that's another something to look forward to.

Fun things to come: new tattoos in the works (major ones! In places that can be seen all the time!) and a springtime trip to Georgia to visit a friend I haven't seen in a couple years.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, February 6, 2015

General Update

1. Deactivated Facebook for the month. Most of you are aware, I'm sure, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this blog at all.

2. Really goddamn lonely. It's been nearly a year since I last talked to Preston, and a good two years since I was able to comfortably talk to him like I needed to be able to talk to my best friend and second half. Having that space be EMPTY seriously sucks.
I met a guy last week - a friend of some friends, whom I had really only seen in passing - that I REALLY liked. Started talking online, then did the texting-all-day thing, then met for drinks, hung out some, kept texting.... I had a blast. FINALLY someone who responded properly to my abject silliness. Finally someone with the potential to actually fill that huge gaping void of the last couple of years.
Yeahno. Turns out, he wasn't into me, and I got to figure it out the hard way, as he would just not answer rather than saying no when I would ask about getting together. Yay learning experiences? Ugh.

3. I fixed a thing! I've been using my big break-down camp bed in my bedroom since August, because it has all that lovely space to put stuff underneath it. What I didn't realize was that constant use causes the side rails - the ones with the cleats that hold up the bottom boards? - to bow out. Bow out and drop the bottom boards right off the cleats. Whoops.
Idiot me spent a good two months wrestling boards back onto cleats, and climbing in and out of bed VERY carefully before actually thinking up a decent solution. I bought two c-clamps and a ratchet strap yesterday, and cinched those side rails right tight!! Back to a solid bed, and without having to drill any holes in my bed frame!

4. Kids aren't doing that great. Depressive children with learning disabilities are really difficult for me to effectively manage at the best of times, much less in the dead of winter. None of us have the coping skills. Cumulative spoons are low in these here parts. David continues to get more addled and confused the older he gets. Emily's reading retention is steadily dropping, while her empathy is rising commensurate to the distress level of her friends...which is through the roof. Amber continues to make valiant effort to stay afloat, but she's just a minor crisis away from overwhelmed at any given time. It's rough. Mom should be able to advise, support, HELP somehow. But I just don't know how.

5. Spring cleaning won't wait 'till spring. The house is a disaster, and I've reached that point where I can't work on anything creative without massive guilt. So I'm slowly reviving my Home Routines app and Get Your Act Together book, and working my way through a methodical decluttering of the house. Today is my last day in Zone 1: Back Room and Stairway. All that's left to do in the back room is vacuuming and tile-scrubbing, and then it's all-day laundry to clear out the stairwell.
I have the afore-mentioned guy to thank for this fit of self-consciousness - I stepped foot into his spotless house and experienced some major tidy-space envy. He has a full bank of EMPTY SHELVES in his stairway. A strip of coat hooks with NOTHING on them. No bathroom cabinet, just a tiny, pristine glass shelf with toothpaste, shaving cream, toothbrush, and razor on it. A spare room with just a few things sitting in it. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, even though I know I'll never set foot into the place again. I don't think I could ever hope to get to empty-shelf point, but still.....MUST CLEAR OUT HOUSE.

6. Still hate cooking. My diet sucks. I know I need to get back on the AIP and get my energy back, but that whole hating cooking thing is really putting a crimp in that plan. I'd like to say that I'm easing into it gradually by at least eating sugar, grain, and nightshade-free, but who am I kidding? I have a bad day, and that's exactly where I turn. And I've had some bad days. I'll keep trying, though. And I'll try not to beat myself up too badly when the emotional eating happens.

7. I started getting Reiki from Dawn. So far, SO AWESOME. I *want* to call it mind-blowing and life-changing, but it's way too subtle for that, and I've only had it done once. It might work into that description after repeated sessions. But yeah, it was pretty cool. Reiki is energy-work. Kind of like a hands-on prayer, or a massage without the massage. The coolest part was being able to actually feel which parts of my body were holding onto pain, stress, tension, whatever. Dawn's hands would just heat up in those places. And then she'd move them to another spot and they'd be cool and stay cool. Hands over my heart and solar plexus not only heated up, but I also couldn't keep from crying. The fronts of my knees, she heated up. The backs, nothing. Anyway, it was really cool. I went home, slept soundly, and woke up without that usual awful sluggish "I don't want to do today" feeling. I call that a win. Definitely going to do regular sessions. Maybe even get the kids in on it.

8. Still chugging along on the pottery. I haven't been doing much throwing at home, but hopefully that will change post house-clearout. The studio got 6 new glazes - 4 different whites, a purple, and a new cobalt blue. I'm looking forward to playing around with them all. My tomato mugs sold like hotcakes over Christmas, so I'm still cranking those out when I can. I think I'm ready to drop the red clays for a while and work in gray and white. Get back to my pretty green and fake ash glazes that look so awful on the red.

9. I started Instagramming. Even figured out the whole hashtag thing! Go me! bran_ti if you want to add me.

10. Knitting has stalled. Apparently, picking up stitches along the edge of a piece is a painful bane of my existence. All that's left to do on my cable-yoke hooded sweater is the border....but I have to pick up SO MANY STITCHES and I just haven't. Maybe I'll make myself do that after work tomorrow.
Oh yeah, I'm on Ravelry, too. BranTi. Add me. We can talk.

Well, wish me luck. Surviving 'till spring is the name of the game today.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Cleaning is BIG

Housecleaning has always been a big deal for me. I was that kid that would let mess accumulate in my room until there wasn't even a path to the bed, and my mother would ground me to my room with no phone privileges until it was clean. Even in the closet. And under the bed.

The ridiculous part is, I LOVE a clean and organized room. I KNOW I feel better and work better in a tidy, well-ordered environment. I just can't seem to keep it that way. This weekend, while tackling the soul-sucking hole that is my recycling closet, I pondered the possible reason for this conundrum.

The problem? I crave the dramatic. What I love to see is massive transformation. The big payoff that says to me "your time is worth SO MUCH!" Taking a space from disaster to spotless is like winning the Mega Millions in one lump sum.....whereas these fantastic systems that force you to maintain that tidiness and order don't feel like much of anything. Kind of like getting your lottery winnings in monthly payments. No doubt, that's definitely the better option in the long run. No disputing that fact at all, ever. But as far as emotional rewards go? Apparently I REALLY CRAVE that big payoff.

So, instead of taking back those 20 soda cans the week after the birthday party, I just let them accumulate through party after party until there are 200 of them and they're preventing the closet door from closing, and spilling out into the walkway. $2 in returns? Hardly worth it. $20? MUCH more satisfying! Instead of running a bag of resale shop donations in every month, I'll let the pile accumulate until it is not only big enough to fill my van, but also big enough to impede my path into my bedroom. One quick stop? How is that fun? Nobody at the resale shop offers to help you unload ONE measly bag!

It's an illness, I swear. I mean, I know I'm a hoarder. I know I have a difficult time letting go of items that I brought into my spaces intentionally. That's an easy one to accept - after all, I can usually tell you just when and where I bought any particular thing in my house, and just how much I paid for it. Every piece of fabric had an intended use. Every art supply. Every kitchen utensil. Everything has a story, a plan, a brilliant idea. But the trash? The piles and piles of waste that I have NO REASON to hang onto? I could never figure that one out. It shouldn't be a difficult thing to "pick it up, don't pass it up." It shouldn't be a mental waste of time to sort the recycling and get it out on recycling day. To empty the waste basket when it overflows. This addiction to dramatic transformation needs to END.

So, my friends....the time has come. Time for me to grow up. Time for me to make that responsible adult decision and take those monthly payments instead of that one lump sum, and do that whole daily maintenance thing. It'll be hard. I know I'll probably revert back to 4th grade me quite often, and find myself curled up on my bed crying about how mom (me mom this time, not MY mom) is so mean. But I think I understand better now. I'm pretty sure I can do this. Well, you know, after this month's big payoff, anyway.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Some Tablet-Weaving Tips

I've been working on a little weaving project for a friend's wedding, and as I worked I realized that there are a few things I do that aren't really mentioned in the books and tutorials that I've seen. So I figured I'd take a bit of time to pass them on to you.

1. Mark the crap outta your cards.

I made my cards out of a heavy tagboard (not posterboard - this stuff is about twice as thick) and then marked them ALLLLL up. The card on top is the side that faces left, and you'll see that's numbered in black. If I'm threading in the S or \ direction, the threads go through from that side of the card.
The bottom card is numbered in orange, and for some reason I wrote CC on it. I can't for the life of me figure out what CC was supposed to stand for. Anyway, this is the side of the card that faces right, and if you are threading in the Z or / direction, your threads go through that side.
Notice that the holes are lettered clockwise on the S side, and counterclockwise on the Z side, so each hole has the same letter on both sides.
Also, you can't see it, but the edge of the cards on the A-D side have been colored red. This marks my "home" position. It's where I start from, and once all the cards are sitting with the red side up, I know I've gone through a complete pattern sequence. It is handy - trust me. Having that particular marker makes it a lot easier to un-weave or find your place in the sequence. You could get even fancier and mark each edge a different color - just be sure you remember which color is "home".

Oh, speaking of making cards - definitely DO make use of scrapbooking supplies to make yours. Using a round corner punch on all your cards is way faster than rounding off by hand, and you do not want to leave square corners, especially if you will be working with fine threads. Corners catch threads.

2. If you're working on an inkle loom, warp in a loop directly on the loom.
(I apologize for not having snapped a picture at this point.)
When you're doing card weaving on an inkle loom, you're basically working in a loop. You weave a section, loosen the tension, then slide your work out of the way which exposes more unworked warp in your work space. Tighten everything back up, and you're good to go.
When I warp up my inkle loom, I try to work it out so I have a good 8-12 inches of extra warp length, which will get taken up by knots and end-cutting. I warp in sorta-kinda continuous loops, switching colors according to my thread-up pattern as I go. This means that I sometimes have knots at the peg where I start and stop my warp circuit.
So once I'm done looping on the warp, I use cloth athletic tape or masking tape to tape the warp to my uppermost pegs so the whole lot doesn't fall off. Then I CUT THE WARP. One cut in front of my start peg, and one cut behind it to even everything up.
Once it's cut, I thread up my cards on the bit dangling right in front of me, and redistribute the remaining warp around the rest of the pegs to give me the slack I need to tie the ends together.
But don't tie them ALL together.

3. If working on an inkle loom, tie your edge card warps together separately from the rest of the warp.

This is because...

4. Always turn your edge cards on one direction only, and turn them every pick (pass of the shuttle / weft.)

This is probably the single thing that will improve the look of your weaving the most.
You'll notice, when you are weaving patterns that switch the direction you turn the cards, that you get lumpy weirdness in your selvedges whenever the cards reverse direction. And if you work with split-deck patterns, where the edge cards might only get turned every other pick, you end up with loose selvedges that don't pull up to an even width.
Turning the first and last card in the same direction every single pick will solve all of that. You'll get a nice, tight, even selvedge that looks professional and smooth.
The reason tying up your edge cards separately is so important is because turning in one direction every time builds up way more twist than most patterns do, and those cards of threads will tighten up considerably more than the rest. You'll want to be able to untie them periodically to release the built-up twist, and it's much easier to do two cards' worth than the whole bundle.

5. Follow these steps to get an even width and tight selvedge.

Weave a few picks to get started. Now, when you pass your shuttle through, don't pull your weft thread all the way through. Leave a little loop sticking off the side.

Now turn your cards as indicated by your pattern for the next pick. Use your beater or edged shuttle to pack in your weft...

...then pull the weft thread to close the loop on the side. Pull it tight enough to draw the band edge together smoothly, without making a divot in the edge.

Then pass the shuttle the rest of the way through, being sure to leave that loop on the edge again.

If you do this every time, you'll get a feel for what tension you need to apply to get a consistent width on your band.

6. Try not to slide your cards too much.

I was going to recommend sliding your cards back and forth on the weft after turning, to open the shed (the space between the top threads and bottom threads that you pass the shuttle through) but....well, that's only a good plan for tough, tightly woven yarns. As I was working with the 3-ply linen thread in these pictures, I discovered that sliding the cards was wearing right through ply threads in my linen yarn and causing breakages.
So, to avoid that, just stick two fingers into the shed right up against the cards. Open up your fingers like scissors, and the threads will separate to define your shed.

Hope these tips can help someone step their game up to the next level. Happy weaving!

- Stell

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Playin' Around

Been messing about a bit lately!

My big experiment has been trying to reproduce the Ukrainian method of milk-firing pottery. I started with a fired pot, mainly red in color, and I gave it a few baths with whole milk. Then I stuck it in my oven, turned it up all the way (550°F in my case,) and let it bake for about an hour.

The baking period caused the milk to turn dark brown and permanently fuse to the pot!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Paleo? Autoimmune Protocol? There's a New Forum!

Just an FYI for any of my friends who are on a paleo diet or trying to navigate their way through healing an autoimmune condition - there is now a non-Facebook based forum with sections for both standard paleo AND STRICT AIP!!!! Yayyyyyyy!!

The Paleomom Community

You'll also find there a LOT of promotion for the host's new book that details the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol in exhaustive detail. If you suffer from an autoimmune condition (or previously thought to be autoimmune condition, like fibromyalgia) you should absolutely check it out. It's not easy, most definitely, but feeling healthy is really really worth it.

Hope to see you there!

- Stell