Weaving with Superwash

December 4, 2009

The reason I haven’t continued with my to-be-continued band weaving post is that I am waiting on photographs. The way I sit to use my home made heddle involves me, a chair, the newel post, my right knee, my left thigh, and several hands–but I make do with two. I would need a fourth to hold the camera. I could ask Der Mann to take a picture of me, but it is dark when he comes home, and he will make me look fat, and anyway, there isn’t enough daylight in the house in winter, even when the sun is out.

Excuses, excuses! Mostly I just hate taking pictures. I have made three scarves on the rigid heddle loom in the last month and there are no pictures of those either.

Here is a preview of the most recent:

It is ugly. The only way to describe it is “clueless in 1982.”  This is the first thing I’ve woven that I simply thought: Yuck!

Ugly begins with good intentions. I received some nice superwash wool, enough for a scarf of generous proportions.  It is a beigey pink. For weft, I looked in a sack of some other gift yarn and found that it paired well with a skein of mystery natural fiber yarn in silvery white, a little pale primrose, and earthy tints. I had not been able to find anything else to go with it, so I was quite pleased.

By the time I saw that I was making an ugly scarf out of pretty yarns, it was too late to change wefts and still get the length I wanted. I decided to think of it as a chance to practice Danish medallions and inlay.  I hoped that after wet finishing it would not look so bad.

This was my first experience superwash wool. I thought it would just shrink less than normal wool. I put it through a warm handwash cycle in the machine, with an extra warm rinse. No shrinkage. Damp-dry in cool dryer. Nothing. Low heat dryer for 10 minutes. Nothing. Another 15 minutes and it did plump up a little, getting springy without actually shrinking. Planning for warp shrinkage, I had woven way too few picks per inch.

There’s more. Last night I began having horrible allergic nose runnings and itchings and hackings and sneezings that I finally traced to the scarf. Wool doesn’t bother me, nor any other animal fiber. Here’s what I think happened: when I heated the scarf in the dryer, and cleaned out the lint trap–and afterwards handled it quite a bit–I simultaneously activated whatever was used to treat the yarn and released bits of superwash fluff into the air. It happens every time I go back to it, too, though not quite as severely.

Is that totally weird? Is anyone else allergic to machine washable wool yarn? The treatment process uses chlorine compounds and/or plastic resins which are non-toxic in the finished yarn. It is even a hypoallergenic alternative for many people with wool allergies. I would suspect the mystery yarn, but messing with the superwash fringe is what really seems to get to me. (I am messing with it quite a lot because the plies of superwash yarn don’t grip one another, and I am having to re-ply a bunch of yarn that came untwisted in the wash.)

Der Mann likes the scarf. He called it “substantial.” I threatened to make him wear it. Now I am trying to decide whether to give it to a relative who who can’t tell the difference between knitting and weaving–and would like it simply because I made it–or whether that is too much of a dig to my pride. It’s silly, but I have this picture of people telling her with a fixed smile, “Oh. My. Isn’t that . . . substantial. She must be a very . . . creative young lady.”–mentally adding twenty years to my age. What do you think? Have you ever made a gift of a project you thought was ugly?


Clean Clothes

March 13, 2009

My adrenals say I have some explaining to do after last month.  I picture them standing in a nipped-waist floral house dress, tapping their high-heeled foot.

I am almost too tired to write a post, but not quite.  The momentum will keep me going once I start.

One weird thing about this move is that it leaves me very uneasy in a way that goes beyond the boxes and the construction-zone-ness of the space.  Uneasy and guilty.  It’s as if I am waiting for the gods to send a lightning bolt.  The hubris of living in a house three times as big as our tiny apartment!  It’s weird, but consistent with my character.

Likewise, as I was shopping for a washer I felt I was doing something wrong.  Decadent.  (Roman aristocrats, not chocolate.)  As I searched for the ideal washing machine to coddle the products of my expensive, intellectual, upper-middle-class hobby,* I thought of the women all over the world who wash their clothes in rivers, on rocks.

Actually, my parents made us a gift of the washer, which was lovely.  But then I felt guilty for parents who could afford to make a present of a washing machine.  Isn’t it dumb of me to have combined the over-sensitive perceptions of an aesthete with Evangelical guilt?  It’s a recipe for discontent; the trappings of Pietism are too ugly to bear, but Epicureanism has no moral rigor.  Ah lack-a-day.

Nice things about the house:

  • small town
  • central heat (We had individually controlled electric wall heaters in the duplex, some of which didn’t work properly.)
  • the space (lots of it)
  • happier husband (eventually)
  • the yard (large enough to plant big plants and even select a tree or two–my most favorite game!)
  • no always-at-home creepy landlord stealing my shovel ‘n stuff

Not so nice things about the house:

  • small town (Der Mann’s very apt comment when we were walking around it after first seeing the house was, “R___  looks like it has a Hell Mouth.”
  • central heat (improperly installed, it sends all the heat upstairs to make the bedrooms sweltering, while the downstairs is cold)
  • the space (ugly and inconvenient new placement of walls and fixtures from a no-permits, down-to-the-studs remodel, ruined/lost woodwork)
  • the yard, which I’m trying not to think about.  Literal tons of mostly-gravel fill dirt which discourages plant life and causes drainage toward the scary basement, topped with egg-sized river rocks.
  • radon (not uncommon around here, but I sort of wish I hadn’t got the test since there is no way to reduce it when it is just barely within “acceptable” limits.)
  • costs more to live here
  • all the work we will have to do
  • long bus commute for Der Mann

Best things about the house:

  • troupe of half-grown wild kittens which provide constant entertainment when we look outside
  • my new washing machine

The washer guilt faded as I had my first gigantic laundry day.  Thank you, thank you, and thank you again for your comments!  They gave me good things to think about.  After we returned the first washer, I realized that I am a clothes-washing anomaly.  You could call me an “active launderer.”  Or maybe a laundry witch?  I own a laundry stick*, for heaven’s sake!  I like access and control at every stage of the process.  This is because learned my textile-care habits from my grandmother, who learned them in wringer-washer days from her grandmother.

Granny loves clothes and fabrics, and she taught me to wash them in a case-by-case intuitive way, like cooking.  She grew up in the depression, and has never had much money since, so she is very attuned to making things last. . .  Pre-treating with Fels Naptha and other strange preparations, checking the water temperature to see if it feels right and adjusting the taps, stopping the machine mid-cycle to check on things.  Repeating cycles.  Manual extra rinses.  Always machine drying on low heat and hovering over the dryer to snatch things out at just the right moment.  Drip drying.  Flat drying.  Blocking.  In fact, she still has her grandmother’s copper wash boiler, and I have seen her use it!  So, I ended up with a top loader.

Older, more primitive machines are better match for “active launderers.”  Their faults are just the same as modern washers–some of them are too harsh or too wimpy with everyday loads–but you can get more customized results with fewer settings.  It’s pretty clear what your machine is doing at any one time, and you can step in to alter the process without much trouble.

That’s what I wanted: a durable machine that would allow me to make my own combinations of temperature, agitation speed, spin speed, and cycle length; though I also liked the idea of useful pre-sets, like the alternating agitate-and-soak of a handwash cycle.

I would have liked a water and energy efficient machine, but it appears (unless you have a front loader) that these things are in direct conflict with having brilliantly clean clothes.  I took the Epicure’s route.

It turns out one U.S. company still makes old-style washers.  My Sad Washer with the “automatic temperature control” was a top-loading Maytag Centennial.  My Happy Washer is a Speed Queen.  It’s dreamy.  My only objection is that the higher of the two spin speeds, though it is more RPMs than a standard washer, seems to leave the clothes damper than I’m used to.  Unless that is in illusion propagated by the fact that they aren’t twisted around each other and plastered to the outside of the tub.  Perhaps the spin cycle is shorter?  Anyway, they dry quickly in the dryer I bought off Thistledown-who-was-kicked-out-of-the-duplex, and the fact that they come out less wrinkled means that when I get a clothes line I can line-dry a lot of things without having to iron.

I washed a handwoven gauze shawl (not my own weaving) in the handwash cycle, and it came out fine.


*Sorry for the stereotyping.  Most of us don’t totally fit, but I was thinking how weaving looks from the outside, and to my guilty conscience.

*Dyers probably already know this, but a laundry stick is a roughly 1″ x 1″ by 20″ piece of milled hardwood with the sharp edges sanded down.  In wash-boiler days you’d use it to lift the wash from the boiler.  Now it is useful when you want to open up the washer after agitation starts to stir in laundry spells I mean soap preparations and prod down things like wool shirts that have just enough water resistance to balloon or float partly out of the water instead of immersing.  Last time Grandpa made her a new one, Granny asked me if I wanted one too, and I said, “Yes!”  I’m afraid I lost it in the move though.  Maybe to the landlord’s lumber pile.

Egg Sauced

March 3, 2009

Sorry for the lack of pictures.  We are on dial-up internet at the moment.  I now look forward to catching up on your blogs very s-l-o-w-l-y, unless (until?) we should make our pact with the devil, i.e. Comcast, i.e. the only fast internet in our new town.

But we are moved in.  All our possessions are out of the rain.  We left the apartment far cleaner than than our raw vegan musician nudist landlord left it for us.  He remarked as much, in his white tunic, when we woke him up from an afternoon nap to come do the walk-through.  “Here’s my old room!” he said fondly, turning to me for the indulgent approval he is accustomed to receive from women.  I smiled fixedly at him in my wet, filthy floor-scrubbing clothes.  Then he found the lavender bundles in the closet and wanted to know if we were leaving them.  I said we put them there because the closets smelled of cigarette smoke so we figured we’d leave them.  He perked up.  “So, do you burn them?”  (He definitely moves in the sweetgrass set.)

“No, they just sit in there and make it smell nice,” I explained.  (Does that mean I move in the lavender-in-the-closet set?)

I think he’d got a sudden poetical vision of lighting smudges and chanting our meat-eating, milk-drinking, vegetable-scorching spirits out of the empty apartment when we were gone.

Over the years I have thought a lot about the fact that a quarter (an eighth?) of the renters in the world do all of the cleaning.  Every time we’ve moved, Der Mann and I have cleaned the place we were leaving, then had to turn around and scrape somebody else’s thick layer of gunge out of the new one.  We move into dirty rentals and leave them clean: I can only assume some lucky few have the luxurious experience of moving into clean rentals and leaving them dirty.  Virtue is not its own reward, so what motivated me to clean house for these people?

For one thing, money was so tight we were always terrified of not getting our deposit back.  Yet I know for a fact that most landlords will settle for what I call “symbolic cleaning.”  Over the years I’ve observed, again and again, a bizarre landlord-obsession with burner pans.  Replace the burner pans, dump a gallon of bleach in the toilet, knock the crumbs out of the kitchen drawers, and you’re golden: no need to worry about the blobs of jam or crock pot full of moldy leftovers in the fridge, the 9 burnt-out lightbulbs, The gravy smears on the woodwork, the wall you’ve been using for a dart-board, or the pools of shampoo in the bathroom cupboard–he’ll turn a blind eye to those.  If, on the other hand, he’s the kind of landlord who doesn’t return deposits, nothing you can do will to make him give it back.

It’s not that I’m a neatnik.  Well, okay, a little, but only selectively.  While I am depressed by dirt, I weigh the cost of displacing of it very carefully.  I don’t like to crunch around on gritty floors, I think it’s important not to let goop settle on work surfaces, and no human being ought to have to use a gross bathroom.  Also, I have a thing about keeping the kitchen counters cleared in reaction to my mother.  (Her hoarding and her clinical OCD and are a deadly combination.)  But I loathe scrubbing and mopping floors.  And dusting.  And vacuuming.

I end up vacuuming every week or two for the sake of my dust allergies.  In terms of surface area, 80 percent of the dust settles on the floor, right?  As for the other 20 percent, despite the fact that it is a health issue and I find it extremely unpleasant to touch–nails on chalkboard, really–I go months without dusting.  And floors, oh, dear.  Back when we lived in a farmhouse with real linoleum in a speckled brown pattern I once went more than a year without mopping.  But see, we don’t spill much!  And when we do spill something, we wipe it up with soap and and water!  And we don’t wear our outside shoes in the house!

Regular spot cleaning and a household with only two adults is the only thing that makes this kind of piggery bearable.

But I’m talking about our everyday dirt, in our everyday lives.  We would never bequeath it.  That would be wrong.  Like leaving our dirty underwear slung on the chandeliers.  I’ve never faced dirty underwear in a new rental, though I once found dirty sweat bands and sweat socks that had been slung on the closet shelf.

We are still technically renters.  My parents are buying the house as a retirement investment, Der Mann and I are fixing it up.  My parents are paying for materials, we are supplying the labor.  Our rent is about the same as it was in the duplex.  However, since we loaned my parents part of the purchase price, it is also an investment for Der Mann and me.  When my parents sell, we’ll get our money back with a portion of the profit from the sale.

In case you are curious, I managed to de-paper, patch, re-plaster, sand and paint the bedrooms before moving day.  All the dog-pee carpets are gone.  Believe how bad they were when I tell you the nailed, splintering, painted and paint-splattered wood floors underneath are a big improvement.  The rest of the house is (Euphemism?  Let’s see, now…) in process.  I’m only half done painting the dining room.  It’s the largest room, and my loom and all the stuff that was going to go in there is crammed in the living room until my paint store gets another shipment of the paint I was using.

Still no washing machine.  We went through the drama of buying one, hauling it home, squeezing it through tight doors, unpacking it, and hooking it up, only find that “automatic temperature control” refers to an internal, non-adjustable thermostat which prevents washing at any temperature other than the factory pre-sets for “cold,” “cool,” “warm,” and “hot.”  The “hot” setting is lukewarm.  Adjusting the laundry taps, which is how I’ve always fine-tuned my wash temperature, did nothing.  It was late at night and I’d been breathing paint fumes for weeks straight when I made this discovery; I was literally pounding on the walls with my fists and weeping.  I stopped short of swinging a hammer through the plaster, which was what I really wanted to do–I knew I was the one who would have to patch the hole!  My poor Mann.  He was the one who suggested we could try to return it.  He did the dirty work.

Fleeing the Landlord

February 3, 2009

From this:


to this:



But not until the end of the month.  In the mean time I am very busy and tired. Whelmed, but not over, if you know what I mean.  I hope to offer some updates later.  Does anyone know how you remove wood glue that someone has squirted liberally under all the lifting seams of wallpaper, directly onto improperly skim-coated sheet rock (gypsum board), without taking the paper off the sheet rock?

And as long as I’m asking for advice: can anyone tell me how front-loading washers treat handwovens?  Do you have one?  Do you like it?  I know they are more efficient than the old fashioned tub-and-agitator kind of washing machine, but I’m worried there would be not-enough swirly water going on, and too much slapping.  For the first time I am shopping for a major appliance, and I find that Consumer Reports doesn’t mention whether this or that washing machine is likely to tangle and unevenly shrink one’s handwoven yardages.