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Living and dyeing in 3/4 time

I have no idea why Jimmy Buffet popped into my head. Sorry…


On March 5, 2016 I took a couple of fiber dyeing courses taught by Kate Bachus of A Hundred Ravens.  I don’t know anywhere outside of the fiber world where people will divulge their secrets and tell you exactly what they do to achieve the results they get, be it a particular knitting stitch, how a quilt corner should turn out just so, and in Kate’s case, just that perfect shade of fuschia. She explained the basic principals of dyeing (at least for us – we were using wool that Kate supplied). And the principals are quite simple – you need a protein fiber (wool, alpaca, goat, rabbit, etc), an acid dye (no, no, the dye itself isn’t an acid, an acid (vinegar works, citric acid works better), and heat. Water is there only as a suspension medium for the acid and dye, to help evenly distribute it over the fiber. (Dyeing stuff like cotton is an entirely different process, which I’m not interested in learning yet.)

In the first class we each got two ~400 yard skeins of so-called sock-weight superwash merino yarn. Merino is the sheep breed, and they are known for their fine, soft wool. Superwash is a processing technique that makes the yarn less likely to shrink or pill, so the yarn is delightfully soft and about bulletproof. The yarn was in a plastic bag, still wet with a citric acid solution in which they were pre-soaked. I was completely winging it, and mixed two parts of fire-engine red, one part of sunflower yellow, and got this horribly blinding orange, which is not where I wanted to go. I added one part of black, which toned it all down to a nice rose color.  I dyed both skeins the same – dipping one-third into the dye bath for a while, then another third for a while, and then the rest of the skein for a while, all roughly ten-minute steps. I then squeezed the bulk of the dye out of the yarn and stashed it in a plastic bag. Done with Lesson One.

yarn2 yarn1

In the second class (mostly the same people) Kate and her minions passed out bags with pre-soaked “blanks” of sock-weight yarn. The blanks were just knitted rectangles about eight inches wide and long enough (almost a yard) to contain about 400 yards of yarn. The pretext here was to design a gradient color pattern. I chose root colors of approximately turquoise and mauve, so I dipped one end of the blank into a dark turquoise, then about two thirds of it (same end) into a lighter turquoise bath, which added some color to the already-died portion, then I moved to the mauve bucket, and gradually slid the other end into the dye, resulting in a dyed blank that started at dark turquoise, progressed to a lighter turquoise, then into  a light mauve, progressing (in a gradient) to a fairly dark mauve. It’s going to make a wonderful shawl…


Clearly I am not properly maintaining this blog…

Geez, my last post was after a month of employment at Bruker. That ended in March of 2015 after starting in July of 2014.

I was out of work again from March to October 2015, when I landed a temp-to-perm gig at Rigaku Analytical Devices, where we make these very cool devices for materials analysis. So called LIBS (Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy) uses a laser to vaporize a bit of the material being sampled (no, no giant laser beams melting through buildings and such, just a little bit of invisible light in the near-infrared spectrum (1064nm)). But the laser kind of vaporizes the material, and a spectrometer samples the generated light spectra. I don’t understand a bit of it. But I don’t need to – I just write the software.

Currently I’m maintaining a stable of spinning wheels (five of them. That might be excessive), a couple of looms (one on the floor, one is a table-top), and I have four raw sheep fleeces that need to be washed. (Perhaps also a little excessive?)

I’m taking a dyeing course on Saturday, and I have an advanced spinning course slated for March 13 in Northampton.

The spring program of Sheep & Wool festivals kicks off in April. CT on 4/30, MD (yes, I’m going to Maryland) on 5/7, NH on 5/14, RI on 5/21, and MA on 5/28. They are great fun, especially if you are a knitter/crocheter, or a spinner or weaver, or even if you only like sheep and lambs. Or lamb. They usually have some tasty lamb dishes for sale, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I should come back and set up pointers to these events!

Oh, and the temp-to-perm thing looks like it’s happening at Rigaku. I’m budgeted and on the org chart for next year. I just don’t know how much they’ve budgeted for me yet! Keep your fingers crossed.




Working for a bit

I noticed that I last posted when I was out of work, nearly a year ago. I am coming up on the first anniversary of the layoff, but I’ve been working for a month now, at a place called Bruker Detection, which is related to Bruker Diagnostics, but the connection (as well as the connection to Bruker Daltonics and the other Bruker subsidiaries) is unclear to me. As long as it’s clear to the accountants, I guess that’s enough. It’s a contract, though, and due to expire in October. (My security badge runs out on 10/10, so that’s a hint.)

But I’m enjoying the work, I find that the people are very nice ( and on average, VERY intelligent), and I’m learning new stuff to put on my resume. Hopefully the next period of unemployment won’t be 11 months long.

I’m unemployed and looking for work

Not that anybody really reads this blog much, but I am looking for work as an embedded software engineer. My resume is current and I would appreciate any leads that you might send to me.

Spinning wheels go ’round and ’round

Not being enough of a geek already, I’m adding to my bag of tricks. I took a class on spinning fiber into yarn a few weeks ago with Ann Corbey at The Fiber Loft in Harvard, MA. I got to try a couple of wheels that were OK, but didn’t really enthrall me, but I learned a bit about spinning, and I learned a bit about what sort of wheel I might like to own.

This past weekend Peg and I were in Maine anyway (for another hobby-related event – Lobstercon ), so while in the area I took the opportunity to test drive two spinning wheels in two different shops. At Halcyon Yarn in Bath, ME, I tried the Kromski Fantasia, and at Spunky Eclectic in Lisbon, I tried the dual-treadle Fricke.

I ultimately settled on the Fantasia, and a lot of the reason falls to Peg. She said that the look on my face when I sat down at the Fantasia told her I’d found the right wheel already.

UPS should be delivering the wheel tomorrow afternoon. I’m kind of excited.

Of course, one does not need just a spinning wheel. There are all manner of accessories to purchase over time. One of the first is a niddy-noddy, a device upon which yarn is wound from the bobbin to both balance the twist and measure the yarn. Some folks dye the yard on the niddy-noddy as well.

Looking around at various vendors, I found that the durn things range in price from about $28 for unfinished wood to $50 or $75! It’s three sticks, people. Yes, they are often lathe-turned and beautiful, but I don’t think so. I read the Wikipedia article referenced earlier, which mentioned that “budget spinners” have fashioned them from PVC. A stop at Home Depot last night yielded two 10 foot pieces of 3/4″ rigid tubing and four TEEs. A bit of measuring (two 6″ pieces on either end and a 18″ piece for the main bit), and a minute of assembly provided me with a niddy-noddy for a price I haven’t even calculated yet. I paid $6.20 for the materials. I have enough tubing left for at least three more, TEEs enough for another, and the TEEs were cheap. I estimate that they are going to be about $2 each – not even in quantity. (I wonder if the local yarn shop might have a market for dead-cheap niddy-noddies?)

Stay tuned!


Guest opinion from my friend Jonathan:

This horror will not go away even if we could remove every gun from America. Timothy McVeigh did not use a gun, and the Columbine killers made bombs as well.

The problem we need to solve (and fast) is the fact that we are producing so many (or any at all) young people who consider these actions to be very real options in their tortured lives.

There was an abundance of guns in the 50’s (we’ve always had guns in this country) but these things almost NEVER happened. We have a culture that glorifies violence, makes a scary percentage of the population (especially prevalent among the nation’s youth) feel utterly hopeless, and has seen a precipitous drop in moral awareness as we systematically rejected traditional sources/institutions (organized religion etc…) and have yet to replace them with anything that might work as well. Note: I’m an agnostic and not a fan of organized religion, but there needs to be some universal moral force in play.

Parents, families, schools, the media and popular culture have abdicated their roles and responsibilities in creating a network of influence that cannot be legislated. Call it mind control, manipulation of the masses, the suppression of free thought, but we have failed to do what every successful society has done since we climbed down from the trees, and that is instill in every member of society the value of life, the importance of collective adherence to a code of acceptable conduct, and respect for their fellow man (or countryman at minimum).

When a teenager of a broken home with minimal supervision, who perceives he has no future, is not inspired by school or other institution, is angry and alienated from everything and everyone (all of whom have failed to acknowledge or understand the tell-tale signs), acts out the anti-social, misanthropic violence he sees in his daily diet of ultra-violent video games and movies, all we can come up with is to get rid of the guns.

More than 40,000 people (more than a jumbo jet load every single day) die in auto-related tragedies every year in the US. Do we react to the epidemic of this roadway carnage, and drunk driving, by an outcry to ban all cars? No, we launch massive campaigns to educate people about the BEHAVIORS that cause these actions.

As with virtually every aspect of modern life, this issue is rife with complications. But simply getting rid of all the guns will only result in the these same individuals blowing up a school bus full of children to make the same desperate, extreme statements. It is a widespread cultural problem that will only go away when we address it as such. How many innocent people have to die before we realize why it’s happening?

Hell in a Handbasket

My blog. My opinion, whether you agree or not.

I’m moved to tears by the recent killings in Newtown Connecticut. A clearly disturbed kid of merely 20 years forced his way into the elementary school and killed 20 children, five adults, and himself. He had previously killed his mother at home after stealing guns that she had legally purchased and possessed.

The hue and cry of those that oppose guns is, understandably, to make it more difficult to buy guns. From that perspective, it’s a reasonable approach. But it’s an approach that doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. It’s an approach that cannot work.

Making it harder to get guns is not the answer. Guns are already hard to get. With few exceptions (black market notwithstanding), in order to purchase a gun, you have to have a license, so you are known and vetted by the local and state police. In order to purchase a gun, you have to pass an on-the-spot FBI background check, so you are known and vetted by the FBI. In order to purchase a gun, you have to purchase it from a licensed dealer or someone who knows you.

It will never be impossible to get guns. There will always be a black market. Heroin is illegal. It’s pretty easy to get. (heroin deaths in Massachusetts have risen 6-fold over the past 13 years). Marijuana is illegal. It’s pretty easy to get. If guns are made illegal, they’ll still be easy to get – machine guns are illegal, but they’re still used on the street by criminals, mostly by drug cartels.

It’s not the guns, clearly evidenced by the recent attack in China in which 22 children and an adult were wounded by a knife-wielding attacker. Thankfully, those people will apparently survive.

It’s not the guns, as evidenced by all of the guns in the country during the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s. There were no mass murders like what we’re seeing today.

It’s not the guns, as evidenced by the Oklahoma City bombings. The bomb was made of fertilizer and diesel fuel. I’ve known how to make that kind of explosive after reading a Field and Stream article while I was in junior high. (yet I’ve never blown anything up).

It’s not the guns – it’s the people. But how?

What is it that makes people do these terrible things, whether they use guns, knives, Sarin or Ricin? Or trucks full of explosives?

What is wrong with a society that produces people who think it’s OK to blow up a building in Oklahoma City?

What is wrong with a society that produces people who think it’s fun to poison a subway?

What is wrong with a society that produces children who think it’s OK to go shooting in a theater, mall, or elementary school?

As long as these people are being produced by society, there will be a danger of mass killings like this, regardless the tool used to do the killing.

What is wrong with these people, and how do we fix it?

I just wish I had an answer.




Slush. It’s an “old family recipe”, but only insofar as I learned it from my mother and haven’t noticed it being referenced elsewhere. Perhaps it will become your “old family recipe”, too. It certainly predates the “Slurpie” from 7-11 fame (1965).

The lemonade concentrate can is the traditional measure.

1 can (any size) frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 can whiskey [1]
2 cans water
1 jar maraschino cherries, stems or no at your preference.

In a freezable container, combine all ingredients, including the syrup
from the cherries. Stir. Freeze at least overnight.

The result after freezing is the Slush.

[1] By tradition, one must use the cheapest available whiskey. I thought I did well last year, purchasing a fifth of Kentucky Bourbon for $8.95. It might have been Old Forester. This year I picked up 1.75 l of Old Crow for $12.99 at the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet. Score!


I have in the past made a number of batches of risotto, which is delicious and rich and creamy, usually overflowing with Parmesan cheese, because I don’t have to make a profit.

But making “real” risotto takes time, most of it right at the stove top. A typical recipe for risotto would include a cup of arborio rice, a half cup or so of finely chopped onion, a cup of Parmesan, four or five cups of chicken or beef broth at a simmer, and some nice olive oil. Oh, and I usually finish it with about two or three tablespoons of butter. (Oh, God, why am I overweight?)

The onions are sauteed in the olive oil, the rice is added and that’s sauteed as well. Then the broth is added about a half cup at a time, stirring more-or-less constantly, until it’s absorbed, and the process repeated until the rice is done (al dente), about 25 minutes or so later. Then the butter and Parmesan are stirred in. Delicious, but I’m at the stove for a half hour or more.

That’s risotto. Now, fauxsotto is much easier.

I picked up a package of fresh pico de gallo at the supermarket, about a cup or so of coarsely chopped onion, red pepper, jalapeno, and just a touch of cilantro.

Into the skillet went about two tablespoons of olive oil and half of the pico de gallo. Saute for a bit, then add a cup of long-grain rice, and saute that a bit. Then add two cans of chicken broth. Bring that all to a boil, turn the flame down, cover, and simmer for about twenty minutes. Voila.

It’s not as good as risotto, but about 90% easier and 20% faster. You could probably toss in the Parmesan and butter and get it even closer to risotto, but I didn’t even bother. There are about a million variations on this theme that could be done, but I’m just starting.

Until next time, bon appetit!
(love you, Julia!)

Ravioli (Reprise) B-

Peg was willing to go a B. I called it a C.

At least it was a decent experiment…

I tried for whole wheat pasta, but whole wheat has a lower gluten proportion than semolina – somethimg I neglected to take into account. So there wasn’t enough water in the eggs, so the whole wheat pasta just didn’t hold up. I switched back to semolina in time to make dinner. That pasta was OK but I rolled it too thin and it was difficult for the ravioli to hold up.

Ravioli filling was

  • finely diced chicken breast
  • finely diced sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil)
  • Italian seasoning (a mix of dried herbs)
  • a finely diced shallot
  • some diced garlic
  • some olive oil

I really need to get a ravioli press – making them by hand is a real pain in the ass. A lot of them broke, spilling chicken and tomato bits into the boil. It was ugly. And frustrating to see the raviolis break open like that after putting in the time to make the filling, pasta, and assemble them!

The sauce was pretty good:

  • 3 T butter
  • 3 T flour
  • 2 C milk
  • 3/4 C tomato puree
  • 1 T dried onions
  • 1 T Italian seasoning
  • salt
  • pepper

Make a roux with the butter and flour, cooking it until bubbling, but not enough to brown it. Whisk the milk in gradually, avoiding lumps (!). Stir in salt and pepper to taste, along with the Italian seasoning and onion.

Let the mixture thicken up nicely, then whisk in the tomato puree. Adjust salt and pepper.

Cook the ravioli in rapidly boiling water, drain. Serve with sauce and grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

The filling would have been better with ground chicken and sundried tomato pesto. As it was the chicken and the tomatoes were both kind of tough and rubbery, and Peg and I think that could have been avoided with ground chicken. Since the tomatoes were rubbery, I thought pesto would be a better approach.