Whoosh….

Did you hear that sound? That was May whooshing by. Another month disappearing in the rear view mirror. I wanted to post more this month but obviously that didn’t happen. We rambled about the neighbourhood. We gardened – a lot. We read and read and read. I finished a couple of projects. We wore our masks to get groceries, both for ourselves and for Thom’s elderly mom. We stayed isolated. We stayed well.

When put like that it sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? It doesn’t feel like that while I’m living it however. We’ve found some pleasant and most of all quiet places to walk. Our favourite is Shaughnessy, that Vancouver bastion of huge heritage mansions and treed streets pompously named after prominent members of the Canadian Pacific Railway board of directors circa 1885. Foot and car traffic is minimal, giant old trees keep it cool and the curvy streets keep us guessing as to which direction we’re going. It’s an adventure every time! I haven’t been carrying my iPad though so I have no photos to show you.

The garden is doing well and we’ve actually gotten quite a few compliments from passersby on how nice it looks. We both enjoy gardening and of course this year we have less alternative distractions, right? Yeah. Thom does the bigger stuff: pruning, mulching, mowing, leaf blowing, the larger weeding, turning compost, staking and tying up plants. I do the more delicate stuff: starting and transplanting seedlings, shaping beds, fertilizing, harvesting, the pickier weeding and plant trimming. We luckily have complementary skills and abilities! The weather has still been mainly relatively cool especially at night and this month it’s been quite changeable too. More like April weather than the mostly sunny April we had. A benefit is we’ve been blessed with enough rain that I haven’t had to water very much at all so far, except in the greenhouse of course. Everything (except the cucumbers which are still in pots in the greenhouse waiting for it to warm up a bit more) is planted now so all that’s left to do for the next few months are weeding, harvesting and watering. And watching things grow. Yes, the hammock is already out and being enjoyed.

Not much exciting has happened in the studio however. I did promise a photo of the finished tea towels:

Towels in 4-block 4-shaft Summer & Winter

I love them so much! And am now encouraged to wind a new warp for more towels in a different weave structure. Maybe there’s hope for me to regain my weaving skills yet? Then there’s the second pair of socks for Thom:

New Berry Socks

Yes, I wove the mat underneath too. Years ago now and you can see the sheep are losing their chenille “wool”! Poor things. The sock yarn is DGB Confetti from 2009. Working from deep stash these days. Heh. I truly love this yarn brand and am sad that it’s apparently discontinued. It’s very durable and the colourways were attractive. Now that the superwash sock yarns from independent dyers are more popular, they seem to mostly all use very similar base yarns which aren’t twisted as tightly so don’t hold up to wear as well. They’re also twice as expensive, but I don’t begrudge the hardworking dyers their profit. Just that I would love to be able to keep wearing the socks! Also, I do like dyeing my own but it’s hard to get undyed sock yarns for a reasonable price if you don’t have a business. Nevermind. I have enough for the foreseeable future anyway.

Here’s the masks I mentioned in my last post, free pattern from Dhurata Davies:

His masks
Her masks

They fit very nicely:

The masked woman

I have to say the masks have really helped us with the stress of grocery shopping in crowded stores where it’s difficult to maintain distancing. Some shops insist that all their customers should wear one along with only allowing a certain number of people in the store. I think there are actually more people wearing masks here now than there were. On the busier city streets I would say that perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 of the people I see these days are masked but less than 1/4 of them in quiet, low traffic areas. A much higher percentage wear masks on transit. But not everyone. Discomfort, vanity or disinterest? Even we don’t wear our masks on our ramblings but only if we’re forced to be in closer proximity to others.

And I also sewed a shirt:

Tessuti Helga

This is the Tessuti Helga shirt pattern that I cut out of some thrifted poly-something a year ago. And then it sat. And sat. While I proceeded with a whole bunch of other projects. But finally I decided that this shirt had aged long enough. It was time to test whether this pattern fit me well enough to consider making another version from nicer fabric. The lines of this shirt with its clever hi-lo angled hem are quite comfortable. The facings are stitched down so I knew I wouldn’t have my usual fights with keeping them in place. I deliberately chose a size S which surprisingly fit well with enough wearing ease even for The Belly Fluff. Can’t imagine how loose it would be if I went by my actual bust measurement! The only fit changes I made were sloping the shoulders and shortening the sleeves, both necessary on nearly every garment I make. I had some trouble with the collar which somehow didn’t lie properly against my neck. I chopped it shorter and hand-stitched the seam closed and now I like it much better. Lastly I used 5 smaller buttons instead of the 4 larger ones called for. I only had these appropriate ones in the stash.

Back view
Front (slightly blurry) view
Hem detail and close-up of the novelty fabric

If/when I make this again, I would consider adding some length to the body of this shirt. It feels a little short in front to me especially when I’m just wearing leggings like I am in the photo. This fabric is a little stiff too (some kind of home-dec stuff?) so it doesn’t drape as well as something like a linen or shirt-weight cotton. It’s more like a jacket. But I think it will get some wear, more perhaps in the autumn.

Moving right along. I desperately need some t-shirts, particularly longer-sleeved ones, since there are obvious gaps in my drawers and several old well-used t-shirts are finally wearing out. After 20 or so years I think they don’t owe me anything! I have plenty of suitable knits in the stash so there’s no excuse really. When I cut garments out in batches I can usually squeeze in a short-sleeved or cap-sleeved t-shirt as well as a 3/4 or full-length sleeved one at the same time. These are all vital for layering with my other pieces in my wardrobe. It turns out that I wear knits far more than wovens or often pair them together. Knits are comfortable and forgiving of fit and lend themselves more to my leisurely lifestyle. Got to get on this, preferably before it gets stinkin’ hot in my studio. Which it will. Very soon now.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

For an idea of what I’ve been up to since my last post, just go look at my last post! The plants are bigger and there’s a different pair of socks on the needles. The dish towels are done except for washing, drying and photographing. I got them off the loom yesterday and hemmed them on the sewing machine. I find machine hemming is more durable than hand-stitching when it’s something that’s going to be dumped in the laundry over and over. I absolutely love these things and can’t stop admiring their pretty colours! I’ve still got lots of 2/8s cotton yarn left, not to mention 2/16s and 4/8s and 22/2 cottolin (cotton and linen blend, equivalent in grist to the 2/8s). I’m already finding myself planning another towel warp. Uh-oh. Am I trying to put sewing on the back-burner again? Hope not.

Because, well, I’ve finally decided to sew some face masks. Yeah, I know. But you know, we’ve found it more comfortable to go grocery shopping with a mask – even though most other people around here aren’t wearing one. Maybe a quarter of the population out and about? (Lots of people don’t wear helmets on their bikes either even though it’s a local bylaw to do so.) Mask wearing is not mandatory in BC (yet) but if they start to open more shops and services, I’m going to wear a mask. And gloves. So to that end I’ve found an excellent free pattern in 4 sizes from Dhurata Davies Patterns. She was just as reluctant to mask up as I am so I feel like a kindred spirit while using her pattern. It has ties instead of elastics which I need to accommodate my glasses and hearing aids. No room behind my ears for anything else! I haven’t started sewing these yet but I’m looking forward to playing with some fun scrap fabrics. At least it will be more attractive than my ugly N95 dust mask! Which leaves “mask face” creases and doesn’t allow my glasses to sit properly on my nose. And isn’t supposed to be resuseable. Ugh.

Everything is growing really nicely and the weather has been cooperating. We’ve had lots of sun, a bit of rain and some quite warm days with cool but not cold nights. My garden is nearly completely planted now, only waiting on the cucumbers and basil which are coming up under the lights. They won’t go out for several weeks yet. The runner beans which are more cold-tolerant than regular snap beans are already coming up. I’m picking at least a bucket of produce every couple of days and making lots of salads. Kale buds, dried cranberries and sweet onion dressing is a favourite. Also finely sliced bok choy, grated carrot and daikon radish with sesame/ginger dressing is another. I have 4 different varieties of bok choy this year so using it for more than a stir-fry is essential! Quick before it bolts which is inevitable when the nights get warmer. As always I use my patented cut-and-come-again harvesting technique: cutting the largest outside leaves of lettuce, arugula, mizuna, bok choy and komatsuna and leaving the plants to grow new ones from the centre. As the season progresses though I’ll start taking whole plants. The cool weather greens are better off picked before they start to grow flower stalks. The quality diminishes then but the already harvested leaves stay fresh for at least a couple of weeks or more if washed and well wrapped in reused plastic bags in the fridge. I’ve had bok choy last over a month that way after it gets too hot for them outside. Arugula and lettuce don’t last quite as long in storage.

Rhododendron “Jingle Bells”

Sadly this is the only photo you’re getting this time, one of our really pretty rhodos. Apologies for not having anything more exciting to impart. I wanted to post more often but it seems as if there isn’t really anything new or different and I’m not feeling like photographing myself or my admittedly uninteresting clothing choices right now. I did break down and cut my hair! Hah! It was driving me nuts and since my hair grows extra-fast I figure no harm/no foul. It’s not as straight as I’d like, of course, and I had to get Thom to help with the back because I can’t get to it properly at all. Nor see what I’m doing back there even with him holding an extra mirror. It really needs more off the back and better shaping but hey, it’s not in my face anymore so I’m calling it a win! I made my fringe/bangs extra-short. On purpose. Heh. My darling hairdresser likes to leave them longer, perhaps so I’ll come back sooner? Hope she can fix the mistakes when I finally get to see her again! Whenever that might be. Not holding my breath.

Sending you all virtual hugs and kisses! Stay well and stay sane! The world is weirder than usual right now but we can survive and adapt, right? Right???

Goodbye April

Well that was fast! Or slow. Depends on your perspective I guess! We’re well and still hanging about at home with as many long walks as possible and the occasional foray out to get groceries. The grocery shopping is pretty stressful: attempting to follow the ever-changing rules, trying to maintain 2 metres distance from everyone else, wearing disposable gloves and occasionally a mask, finding out that some important items might not be available and not stopping anywhere for long or touching anything unnecessarily. Ugh. We’re in something like Week Number 8 of this now with no real end in sight. British Columbia is doing very well at “flattening the curve” but finding a New Normal will be slow and cautious. Better that than jumping right back into things and finding out too late that it wasn’t a good move!

My emotional state has been going up and down. One minute feeling my normal positive self and the next just wanting to sit and read fluffy Regency romance novels. There’s a lot to be said for immersing oneself into a story where there are solutions to difficult problems and a guaranteed happy ending! I really didn’t think I was very stressed at all at first. I mean, nothing really has changed that much in our normally rather quiet life. Until my psoriasis flared up the worst it’s been since the horrible Year of the Itchy-Peelies in 2010. (The only good thing I got out of that nightmare was a diagnosis.) Meanwhile, I’m bathing carefully, greasing up well with cortisone and my homemade shea butter-based cream and wearing my softest leggings. I’m practically leaving a slime trail like my wee little friend here.

Teeny Tiny Slug

And I also realised that my reluctance to get back into sewing was because I was feeling guilty for not wanting to sew masks or other PPE for anyone, not even myself. The whole situation just makes me angry that something so inevitable like this pandemic wasn’t foreseen and planned for and that manufacturing of PPE was all sent offshore so that there is no domestic stock to fall back on. Profit over public safety. They’re scrambling now to retool some Canadian companies but too little too late. Better than nothing though I suppose. However I and other sewists like me can’t realistically be expected to make up the shortfall. For some sewists it’s been a way to feel helpful and contribute to their community. Good for them but I still haven’t been convinced to join in. Too stressful.

Instead I chose to go in a completely different direction and weave dish towels. I’m currently on number 5! It’s slow going and my concentration level drops right off after an hour or two. Only one more to go after this one though so I’m sticking to it. Maybe when I’m done this warp I’ll sew something? I need some new basic t-shirts and I’ve got lots of knits. Unfortunately I’ve already started to forget all the great plans I had for potential garments that occurred while I was sorting and inventorying my fabrics and patterns a few months ago. I’m sure if I start somewhere one garment will lead to another as it always does.

Otherwise, I finished a pair of socks for Thom!

Blackberry Socks

These are plain socks on 68 stitches in my own basic pattern. The yarn is ONline Supersocke 100 from deep stash. I probably bought it for me but he needs new socks more than I do. And he is perfectly happy to have them knit in wild and wonderful yarns! They don’t really show under his jeans anyway so they’re kind of like a crazy secret love message from me. Heh. I’ve already cast on another pair for him, this time in a mostly red striped yarn with dashes of charcoal, brown and a bright purple. Knitting them is something I can do while reading at least when my hands are up for it.

Gardening has been using most of my energy. It’s pretty mindless and soothing and I have something to show for all the work. Behold my tomatoes are tucked into their greenhouse.

Young tomato plants

This will be a jungle of epic proportions in another couple of months! And I got the dye garden finished. Japanese indigo is taking up the most space this year.

Japanese indigo plants

And the dyers coreopsis is in, tucked between the single bolting woad plant and the perennial coreopsis. They’ll get a lot taller and bushier and will need string and stakes before they collapse. Those are non-dye-providing Welsh poppies coming up on the left, aka pretty weeds.

Dyers coreopsis

The madder is coming up well. I always wish they were more attractive plants instead of scratchy and floppy and covered in black aphids. Right now they look pretty nice though.

Madder plants

And I’ve been harvesting greens and reds from the veggie garden for salads. The bok choy is doing particularly well this spring. Here’s just one pail full of yummy.

Garden greens…and reds

Next, I need to plant the beans and zucchinis. They can wait until next week or the one after. The soil needs to be warm enough for them. And also weeding and digging some of the front garden so I can plant the rest of the flowers somewhere. The marigolds are looking especially nice but they’re getting too big for their little pots. I put some in the dye garden but ran out of room. Moving right along. Playing in the dirt seems to be my happy place right now and this is the time of year when the most work needs to be done.

I know I’ve been rather quiet these days. But I’m hoping that feeling is passing. Time will tell. Stay well!

The Story So Far

I don’t know about everyone else, but not much has changed in our quiet life. I do miss sushi and fish and chips. And I’m wishing I could get rid of all the junk we still have lurking about. Most of all I really miss being able to get together with my family this Easter weekend to eat turkey and mashed potatoes and yack our heads off like we always do. Sigh. Most everyone is in the same boat I’m sure. I am eternally grateful that we have a home and enough to go on with. I know not everyone is so privileged and there are a whole lot of folks out there on the front lines keeping things together and taking care of essential services. A hearty thank you to all of you for your efforts on everyone’s behalf! You are truly appreciated from the bottom of our hearts. Along with what sounds like half the city, we go out on the front porch every evening at 7pm and clap and whistle and yell our heads off to let our carers know!

Meanwhile back in our semi-lockdown, spring seems to be appearing faster than I expected. It’s still been cold at night – just a few degrees Celsius above freezing – but the days have been sunny and getting warmer. We’ve been taking our exercise walkabout in mid-morning when it’s quiet and easier to keep our distance from others. Just around the local residential streets and occasional back alley we’re averaging about 5 or 6 kilometres. The spring flowers and shrubs and especially the cherry trees are spectacular! They’re a little late this year but worth the wait.

Seedlings waiting to go in the garden.

The garden is slowly being tamed. The peas and asparagus are coming up and I got the early Asian greens (bok choy, gai lan, mizuna) that I grew to little seedlings into their home bed. Next in will be the baby kale and cabbages but first I have to finish preparing their spots. I’ve been diligently repotting everything into larger flats so nobody will be in too big of a hurry to be transplanted. I have to schlep them out of the house every day, some to go on the deck and some in the greenhouse. And then back every evening. It’s a lot of work! Thank you, Past Me, for thinking ahead and getting lots of bags of seedling and potting soil as well as all my garden seeds before the pandemic hit. It was a good move! There’s lots of work we can do here before we need to order any other garden supplies. Apparently they’ve been really busy with online and phone orders for curbside pickup. Lots of people stuck at home are obviously planning gardens this year.

So what else? I wasn’t feeling like sewing. Not even masks. (Shhh…don’t tell anyone I have a secret stash of N95 masks…okay, one small box of a half dozen. They are part of our safety equipment for dyeing and woodworking.) I hate wearing a mask unless absolutely necessary because it clashes totally with my glasses and hearing aids. Ugh. There’s enough going on at the back of my ears already! And even with the good ones I feel like I can’t breathe. And my nose itches abominably. Also, have you noticed that many (most?) people are not using masks correctly. Touching their mask, pulling it down, wearing it again without cleaning it properly etc. etc. They might as well not bother. It becomes more of a polite social gesture rather than a functional protection for anyone. However that said, I might wear a mask myself the next time we need to go grocery shopping, which won’t be for a couple of weeks at least. People are NOT maintaining their distance or following the basic rules in the store. Grrrr…what is it you don’t understand about people are actually dying here? Who made you immune?

Whew. Sorry. Guess I have issues and I’m not anything resembling a germaphobe. I am definitely an elder though. Turning the Big Seven Oh this year. We’re the most vulnerable demographic. And in my experience the older people are the ones who are doing the most to be careful and considerate. Younger people seem to be the ones breezing past me, pressing the crossing light buttons with their bare hands, not conceding the sidewalk to keep their two metres/two yards apart and generally acting like it’s all fine. The good news is that families with kids at home are spending way more time than usual with them. They mostly seem to be having fun chalking exercise games on the sidewalk, riding their bikes together, taping up hearts and rainbows and posing bears in their windows. Okay, be positive. We’ll get through this.

Meanwhile, back in the studio, I’ve been weaving. Yes, folks, I’ve finally remembered how to use my loom. Amazing, huh? Not without incident though. I decided to make some new dish towels since the selection in this house is rapidly thinning (literally!) I’m not going to buy any new supplies so it’s all about using what I already have in the stash. For once I actually went to my magazine shelves and in the first Handwoven (May/June 2013) that I looked at found the perfect towel pattern! Serendipity. The structure is four-block four-shaft Summer & Winter, a variation which uses only 4 shafts and 6 treadles but manages to look much more complex than it is. I dug out 6 fruity colours of 2/8 unmercerised cotton for the warp and used those plus whatever else I thought might work for the wefts.

First towel on the loom

Unfortunately it was only after weaving 3/4 of a towel that I discovered an error in the threading.

Can you see the mistake?

Now of course I can’t UNsee it but it was definitely not obvious in among all those colours! So I finished weaving that towel and cut it off, fixed the error which was only 3 threads, retied on and got back to work on the next towel. I couldn’t wait to see what it looked like completely finished so I sewed up the hems on the first towel and washed and dried it in the machine.

Love it! Still seeing the mistake though.
Laying flat on my desk.

You can see better how I used two colours in the weft for each two blocks of treadling. After the first block they automatically switch places so for the second block the tabby becomes the pattern and the pattern becomes the tabby. It’s surprising how different they look! I found that nearly any colour combination worked as long as there was enough value contrast. This means that I can use up a whole lot of random partial tubes of 2/8 cotton and still get beautiful towels. Win-win, I’d say! I can’t stop gazing at it. And attempting to ignore the glitch. Heh. The second towel is going much better. I think my body is getting into the rhythm now.