Sunday, September 26, 2010

I'm back!

These past few weeks have been unusually busy for me. My to-do lists seems to have mushroomed from doing laundry, buying groceries and dyeing some yarn into long lists of must be done sooner rather than later.

I'll make an effort to keep this post shortish since there are no pictures at the moment, and you probably don't want to read the entire short story of my errands, chores and adventures of the past couple of weeks.

Let's hit the highlights, shall we?

I went with Gale of Gale's Art to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. I went with Gale last year to both this show and Rhinebeck, and I'd been planning only on going to Rhinebeck this year. However, and if I'm repeating myself, I do apologize, this year the Dalai Lama will be here in Atlanta on the same weekend as Rhinebeck. His Holiness or a major fiber event. Needless to say, an opportunity to hear him in person won.

When I called Gale with the news, I asked if I could go with her to Wisconsin again this year. I took a look at the class schedule and signed up for two classes.

People who have worked with me know that I've got a strange brain. We all have different ways that we learn, and while seeing a demonstration of something does help, I can read a book and learn how to do whatever it is I'm trying. However, if I then have the chance to take a class from someone who really knows their stuff, I'll take the class.

The first class I took was how to dye self-striping sock yarn. I think I've mentioned before that what I was most curious about was the math involved. I know how to dye self-striping sock yarn, as I'd read it in a book, but Nancy has methods for determining how long each painted portion needs to be in order to make your stripe so many rows high. Her class was for the hobbyist dyer who only needs a skein or two, not a production dyer, yet I did learn the math part.

The second class I took was soapmaking. This is something I've had an interest in for a very long time, but I now have a much more urgent reason. Lush has discontinued their I Should Coco soap, which I dearly love. Honestly, as much as I love it, I don't buy much of it. At $40 a pound it's a special treat. It's also a softer soap, melting away into a puddle of dried coconut in my shower way too quickly.

The thing that has always held me back about trying soapmaking on my own is the lye. The book I have from the mid 1990's made me feel about as comfortable handling lye as I would handling the nuclear waste from Chernobyl. Lye was my personal stumbling block. There were also all these things that could go wrong with your soap.

I've now handled lye and even survived having a few droplets land on skin. I'm ready for soapmaking here at home now, sometime between the yarn dyeing and that batch of plum jam that I really want to make.

However, a rather odd thing happened in the soap class. The class was full, having had 12 people sign up. Only 10 showed up. When it came time to divide into teams, I found myself alone. In my youth I would have been so upset that no one liked me. As a more mature adult, I did puzzle about it for a minute. Is there some "otherness" about me? I pushed that aside when I let it fully sink in. I wouldn't have any partners to mess with. I actually prefer working alone. I knew in theory how to make soap, and now I could learn how, just like I would at home, alone where I could think and not have to answer any questions. However, one attendee had brought a friend who went and signed up, and she became my partner. I can't remember her name, but she actually was quite good to work with. She was intelligent, understood the processes, and it was great to have someone else to share stirring the soap while it underwent the thickening process. One batch of our soap turned out great, and it's still curing. The other batch did not turn out, and I threw it away after consulting a couple of books. It seems that when she measured out the water for it, she measured by volume and not weight. I'll fully share the responsibility about that as I saw her measuring the water, and I wondered about it, but not enough to grab the teacher and ask. I learned from reading that this is a common mistake among new soapmakers, and it does explain why the second batch didn't behave quite as it should.

All in all, I had a great time. I'll have to write about the food a little later this week.

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