Monday, July 26, 2010

We interrupt this sporadic blogging...

I'm not ignoring you.  I promise.  We're kind of in the middle of some renovations and I'm finding myself doing a lot of pondering and measuring and purchasing and figuring-out and math.  Yup.  Math.

There you go.  You're going to have nightmares now, aren't ya?  Don't worry - that plastic/tuck tape get up in the bathtub is just temporary so we can continue to bathe while the rest of the work progresses (bathing in this 27C heat is a good thing...mandatory, even). 

I've got about $300 worth of plumbing fittings and doodads in my car as we speak and there is another $500 worth of plumbing fixtures lying around the second floor, waiting for us to get off our duffs and get to work.  'Cept I'm AFEARED to start!  AFEARED, I say!* 

City Boy has a cold and I'm at work all week, so this ought to get interesting...  If you don't hear from me for the next little bit, don't be concerned - I've just probably had a nervous breakdown and have moved out to the tent in the backyard, turning my back on modern society in the process.

*Did I mention that this is our only washroom?  No other toilets in our house...  Hence my fear.  What if something explodes?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Eye Candy

I'm busy working on a whack of projects, so I have nothing interesting to show you.  How about I post a big fat photo dump, instead?

We took part in a volunteer event this weekend, cleaning up our favourite local beach:

Don't you hate it when you go swimming in the ocean and the water is so warm that it isn't even refreshing?  Yeah, me too.

Bald eagle, not a vulture (he/she's a teenager and still looks a little shaggy... I guess eagles are not unlike humans, that way).

Seeing these clouds, I fully expected a *mother* of a thunderstorm, but it never materialized.

Oh, and before I forget: I had City Boy (aka: Mr. Atmymothersknee) to pick one of your names out of a hat and the lucky winner is...

Congrats, sweetie!  As soon as I have the chance to take some decent photos of your colour/photo options (it's dark here, now), I will send you an e-mail so you can pick them out, ok?  That's when I'll get your address, too.

The giveaway was fun!  It's nice to get so many comments - I know that you guys are reading (that Google Analytics thing again), but it's gratifying to know WHAT you're reading and enjoying.  For example, I just posted the thing about our front porch so that you could see why I wasn't knitting and sewing (I feared that a mutiny would ensue if something fiber-related wasn't posted soon), but it turns out that a lot of folks enjoyed that one, as I've gotten a few e-mails about it in addition to the comments.  Interesting...

At any rate, I will definitely be doing another giveaway before too long.  It's good fun.

Monday, July 12, 2010

We're jammin'

And we're swatchin' for a new design:

And we're trying to beat the heat, with some sweater knitting.  Ok, the "beating the heat" part didn't actually work - that's what happens when you have a lap full of wool, but hey.

Also, because it was my birthday yesterday and it kind of bit (torrential rain for 48 hours = crazy barometric pressure + major humidity = massive sinus headache), I am going to offer up a giveaway!  I have a whole stack of Farmers Market Bags in progress and I'm going to give one of them away to one lucky reader!  Just leave a comment sometime within the next week (you're eligible if you comment before 12:00 pm, ADT on Monday, July 19th) and I will announce the winner on Tuesday!  The lucky winner will get an e-mail from me with photos of the colour choices they can choose from and I will send them a free bag.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  Good luck!

**EDITED TO ADD: Ok, folks, comments are now closed!  I'll be back shortly with a winner!  Thanks so much for all your wonderful comments!**

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Belfast Mini Mills (aka Heaven)

Ok, so in my last post, I alluded to the visit I paid this past weekend to one of my very favourite places.  It goes by the name of "Belfast Mini Mills" and I wish I could live there:

Why, you ask?  Well, they have animals ('cause it's actually a farm, in addition to being Heaven-on-Earth):

 this totally attention hog (get it?), who kept trying to shove his way into the photo...

...and this beautiful cow that my husband immediately developed a rapport with, on this trip.

They also have llamas (or alpacas?  I can never remember how to tell the difference...), goats, sheep, chickens, geese, and a plethora of other critters.  They had angora rabbits for a while, but I think their care was getting to be a big responsibility, so they were sold.  There is an orchard, a couple of farm houses and - this is the best part - a tea shop.  Where they sell all homemade (!) food: soup, meat pie, sandwiches with fresh smoked ham and roast turkey, cookies, cheesecake, salads, you name it!  They also sell tea, of course.  And I'm sure they could rustle up a cup of coffee, under duress.

But I lied.  That's not the best part.  The best part is the real reason for being of this awesome place.  Yarn.

Come with me.  I'll show you.

Hazel (one of the Belfast girls) is going to show us around.

But first, let's just take a peek at what Linda (Hazel's twin sister) is working on.  The ladies are both artists and Linda is a pro needle-felter (it's her 25th hobby, after weaving, spinning, story-writing, drawing, and just about everything else under the sun).  She's putting together a banner for a local farmer's market:

She has needle-felted a bunch of fruits and vegetables, cut up some pieces of coloured felt and laid them all out on a super-thick piece of wool batting, on top of  the felting table.  Yes, they have a felting table.  The lid swings down, presses it all tightly into a wool/felt sandwich and the table top and bottom shimmy back and forth (steam is also piped in) to make felt:

I know, it's awesome.  I got to feel some angora felt, one day last year.  Angora.  Felt.  Need I say more?

So.  Moving on.  This is a really neat-o washing machine for the raw fiber that arrives to the farm from all over the world (they specialize in processing/spinning small batches of specialty fiber, like yak, muskox, alpaca, camel, cashmere, silk, bamboo, and even dog hair).  The washing machine has divisions, which saves on water, as you can wash several small batches of different fibers at once.  There is even a water recovery system which captures the spent water, filters it and reuses it.  Perfect for use in places like Australia, where water is in short supply (we lucky Canadians take water for granted - shame on us).

These two photos show the blower-thingy (what?  I was busy setting up the shot, trying not to step on the unconscious dog sleeping in the middle of the walkway and I didn't hear her explanation - sue me!).  It takes the clean fiber, adds a conditioner to it and blows it into a room, loosening it up and making it process-able.  It's the adult knitter's equivalent to the ball room at Ikea.  Don't you just want to jump in and roll around?

Here, we're getting a little demonstration of the different lengths of fiber found in muskox fur.  Ever go over and pet a muskox?  Me neither, so it's kind of a novel experience.  There are long, wiry strands mixed in with the downy undercoat, so they use this de-hairing machine (HER name, not mine) to separate the wheat from the chaff, if you will:

Then, it gets put into the carder, which brushes everything so that the fibers are all lined up in the same direction.  Then, it gets transformed into roving:

And sometimes gets another pass in a second machine (I may have the order of the machines a little mixed up, here... don't blame me - the yarn addles my brain):

Here, Hazel is explaining how they can ensure that there is very little waste in the process, because they have sensors that measure out all the yarn they are creating.  If you send them 10 lbs of cashmere, you will receive 10 lbs of cashmere yarn (minus any impurities that hitch-hiked in with the fiber), not 9 lbs of spun yarn and a 1 lb bag of leftover roving.  Her explanation got all math-y and everything.  I'll spare you that part.

The roving is spun into singles (those spindles at the bottom of the machine receive the singles):

The singles are placed on this thingamajig (don't know if it even has a name), which winds them onto a cone (the thing she's holding in her hand):

Then, the singles (on cones) are put through this steaming machine and wound onto the swifts:

The steam "sets" the twist and makes the singles easier to work with.  It also cleans the yarn of any conditioner they added in the blow-y room.  Then, the skeins are left to dry and put back onto spindles, which are then plied into 2-, 3- or 4-ply yarn:

THOSE spindles get "coned", steamed and skeined, the skeins get hung up to dry and that's it!  Yarn!

And what do they do when one strand runs out or breaks?  Do they tie a knot in it?  No.  They use this nifty gadget:

It's Italian, it costs a small fortune and it's a little loud (it's pneumatic), but it's magic!

It trims the edges of yarn you place in its little teeth and, at the same time, blasts the yarn with a burst of air which unravels it a bit and makes it spin on itself, fusing the ends together.  No need for those pesky knots.  So, who wants one?

We didn't really get to talk about the dying process or visit the drying racks, where the dyed fiber waits its turn for processing.  I think Linda's work area was blocking part of the space and we didn't want to disturb her.  But, they do dye their own fiber for use in felt, roving and yarn.  I even got to help them out with some colour combinations last year and was very delighted to see them in the store!  You know that tunic Wood knitted up for Juniper?  The yarn she used came from Belfast Mini Mills.  Hazel and Linda made that yarn.

So, that brings us to the store.  Right.  Um, so I'm really really really sorry about this, but I don't have any photos of the store.  While I was gorging myself on yarn and reveling in the company of like-minded fiber nuts, my husband was hightailing it out to the yard,  photographing the animals, the results of which you see above.  I have no photos of the most perfect knitting bag I have ever seen which I am definitely buying the next time I go (you couldn't make it for that price!).  I have no photos of the colourful skeins of yarn, the (locally!) handmade wooden knitting needles, the pre-fab socks they machine-knit on-site, the sheep skins, the pre-knit hats (oh my god, I found the most beautiful tuque - a soft white chunky merino with a dark cherry-coloured angora band in a beeeeeyootiful cable pattern - it's been haunting my dreams, but I need another winter hat like I need another hole in the head) or white camel hand-woven scarves, or the $275 handknit silk shawl they have on display.  No photos of any of those things.  WHAT?  I'M SORRY, OK?  Blame it on my husband, the shutter-happy enabler who handed over his debit card and said "Have at 'er, just remember - we have to eat."  Or the yarn.  Just don't blame it on me.  I don't have the emotional strength for it.

{Lori - their supply of Island Blend is low, but they did have some more of the yellow and there was a really nice dark blue that I bought out for a new sweater.  They've started testing out some handpainted yarns, and had a huge skein of this really nice autumn-y colour combo which called my name (I ignored its siren song, for the time being).  There is also a lot of nice sock yarn, but I haven't had much luck with it, so I'm going to wait on that.  Sorry for not taking photos, dude.  Forgive me?  Also, the tea room doesn't carry ice cream anymore, but their menu is much more extensive (they're stashing a loaf of gluten-free bread in the freezer!).}

But, you guys?  You know what the best part of this place is?  All that machinery I just showed you?  That's the reason this place exists.  Their main goal is to sell that equipment to small mills all over the world (like Afghanistan, for example).  That equipment was researched, developed and built by this family - Sheila (the mum, who is a little elfin woman with a beautiful British accent and an adorable giggle) works in the store, her daughters (Hazel and Linda) work in the workshop and store, and her son works on the development and maintenance of the equipment.  No, the technology isn't new, but they've figured out a way to make it work for small facilities and single-person operations.

Pretty flippin' cool, if you ask me.

PS: I have gleaned most of this information from numerous (I won't tell you HOW numerous, it would be embarrassing) trips I've made to BMM and from eavesdropping on many of Hazel and Linda's tours and gossiping with Sheila.  I have likely gotten some details wrong and for that, I apologize.  If you want additional information or clarification, please don't hesitate to contact the Belfast Mini Mills.  I don't know much about it, I'm just their unofficial ambassador (who gets the odd free gift for bringing so many people over to spend their paycheques in the shop).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This past weekend marked the opening of the local farmers market season in our village, so we got up bright and early and took a nice leisurely walk into town to take it in.  I took some photos along the way (though, oddly, none of the market itself... don't ask me why):

Look familiar?

That afternoon, we took a ride out to one of my favourite places (a full blog post on that, coming soon..):

And then, we went sightseeing:

Just a little photographic proof that Canada isn't all frozen arctic tundra - see Canada Day post comments for back story.  (M, if you need more evidence in your discussions with your husband, please let me know.  I'd be happy to oblige.)

And then, we went out for lunch (mmmm, cheeseburger and fresh fries...) at one of my favourite restaurants, Brehaut's:

Sorry for the belly exposure, ladies.  I didn't catch that when I was setting up the shot.  And the other photo I took just didn't work, so this is what you're getting.

It was HOT that day and it looks like we're in for a few more scorchers in the next week, so I look forward to some more outdoor days like this one!

Also, aren't feet funny?