Very little fibre arts happening for me these days, but I do have plans to change that. For now, I keep a little spindle around with some fluff attached:
This is one of Malcolm Fielding’s Turkish spindles, made of camphor laurel so it is both lightweight and smells lovely! The fluff is some kind of long wool, dyed with locally foraged plants. And I do mean local, as in foraged from the streets of Toronto. I have been building up a little stash of these spun threads for use in embroidery–the palette is growing, though it still needs more in the red/pink spectrum. Blue is ridiculously difficult to achieve through natural dyeing (especially if you’re not using that’s a source of indigotin, and that is an entirely separate dyeing process) so it will be warm colours, and green, only.
Not sure what it wants to be yet, image-wise, but it’s reminding me of the current state of Ontario as we jump from spring headlong into summer. Despite the autumnal cast of the yarns, the province really is all green with some yellow and pink highlights from wildflowers. One of the best times of year here.
Assuming passable weather, I will be teaching a Beginner Spinning on a Drop Spindle workshop at the end of May in Montreal. Details are still a bit fuzzy–it will be Saturday May 28 or Sunday May 29 (whichever has the better forecast), around 10am, and in Strathearn or another nearby park in Montreal-West/outer NDG.
Vaccinated folks who are willing to mask up are welcome to email me at lordal at gmail dot com if you’re interested. Cost is $60, and kits with drop spindle and wool can be purchased if needed ($10 for just the spindle and wool; $40 if you want them in a fancy handmade spindle carry bag).
Back in the Before Times, my friend Merlin and I were planning to go spend a week in Rochester, NY, in a workshop at the Eastman Museum. They offer some wild photography workshops modelled on George Eastman’s early experiments, like making your own emulsions out of silver halides and gelatin. I would have been able to combine it with a work trip and was very much looking forward to it, as well as touring the Kodak factory, but then, well, March 2020, yada yada…
The museum in fact now offers most of their workshops online, including making your own emulsions. However, I don’t really have a lab set-up at home, and the darkroom where I have a membership is ending their COVID vaccination requirements, so… making my own emulsions is probably an adventure for Future Leslie.
Why am I so interested in this, anyway? Well, I’d really like to start combining photography and textiles. I had a lot of fun learning how to silkscreen in a workshop last year and used one of my own photos to make prints on fabric and paper. But I would love to use actual photosensitive media on a textile base, which has had me looking into cyanotype and even ready-made silver halide emulsions that can be brushed onto fabric and processed in a darkroom. Again with the lack of a darkroom, so I may try with the friendlier cyanotype process first (pretreated fabric, rather than mixing up my own solution).
The idea forming in my head is to use some of my own film images, and embroidery, or possibly bring in some maps. I have this vision of a constellation of personally significant sites in Montreal, and I can’t get it out of my head… it seems to be begging to be created.
Granny knitting blogs are back in style, according to some techbros who unsuccessfully tried to break into the knitting world and “improve it” this week. So here I am.
Among the many new skills I cultivated once things like going out and socializing and other forms of fun became too dangerous, was crochet, a craft I’d long tried to learn and given up in frustration. Maybe I just never tried that hard–after all, I think a lot of crochet is ugly (sorry!) and I also associate it with a relative who is a) a hardcore crocheter and b) pretty mean. So there’s that. But with one of those cheap promo subscriptions to CraftsyBlueprint Craftsy, I learned to crochet from a couple of videos in less than an hour. Turns out it IS easy. And fun. And goes quickly, and eats up tons of yarn, and all the other things people have been telling me for years. So without further ago, here’s my first project, finished in early 2020 and still not blocked yet:
The yarn is some old outdated base but in the Kim’s Barn colour way from The Blue Brick. My old iPhone has done a great injustice to the actual colours, naturally.
Detail shot above. Yarn chicken led to a slightly shorter shawl than predicted, but I was able to use the remaining yards to add on this decorative pointy edging. It reminds me of a stegosaurus.
I also realized the importance of good tools. I have a pile of old dented crochet hooks from craft/hobby stores from the early 2000s (iteration #1 of attempting to learn to crochet), but I received a set of Tulip hooks as a gift and WHAT a difference. So much easier on your hands and arms. (Cute little carrying case not shown.) Tulip makes my favourite embroidery needles so I’m not surprised.
Feels good to be sort of blogging again. So many momentous things in my life happened because of a blog, way back when. That’s a story for the memoirs.
I’ve been embroidering for a while now. It started as a way to get some instant gratification through spinning very small bits of fibre and immediately being able to use them for a project, unlike the months of spinning it’s taken for things like sweaters. More and more I gravitate towards science themes, not just because I’m a huge nerd (which is true) but because the shapes on a microscopic level lend themselves very well to the medium. Here’s one of my more popular pieces, an ion channel:
I also process a lot of my own spinning fibre from raw fleece, and always ended up with short, less spinnable stuff rather uncharitably called “waste”.
I hate wasting fibre. So I learned to felt using an online tutorial, with a bamboo sushi mat, some cheap tulle, and my own hard labour in a tiny apartment bathtub. I produced some rather nice squares of felt, which I’ve done all kinds of experiments with. It’s thick enough that you can cut out shapes and it won’t unravel, and you can even fill in the shapes with knitting, woven sections, etc. (more on that later).
I’ve been planning a series of pieces with a science/submicroscopic theme pertaining to various diseases, all of which are somehow linked to myself or people in my life. And I think this mottled grey felt is the perfect background for something only visible on electron microscopy, such as signs of a lysosomal storage disorder (which fills up a lot of my professional brain these days). Wish I still had the crummy electron microscope photos I did at Wellesley back in the day!
Back in the spring I had this grand idea that by fall, it would be safe enough to travel to Montreal for a short vacation. Take my journals and cameras, stay in a fancy hotel downtown, grab a drink with friends around the corner at Brutopia, sit in parcs and catch up, whatever.
Of course, COVID is still here, not enough people are vaccinated, and though the risk to myself is small, I didn’t want to be an unwitting vector to the vulnerable populations of the city, so I cancelled. Alas.
Part of my plan was to knit a cute sweater to wear as the weather got cooler. While it’s been delayed, it hasn’t been cancelled outright, and I am almost done. Almost.
I’m now seaming while streaming my favourite genetics conference… to recreate the authentic genetics conference experience (I have finished sweaters at a variety of genetics meetings). Mattress stitch is time-consuming but requires little frontal lobe use, so ideal for these situations:
Oh, and this is also my first Custom Fit pattern–I’m very keen to see if it actually fits! It might be a little tight in the upper arms since I’ve gotten in much better shape since I started, but perhaps I can block the sleeves aggressively.
Am I blogging again? I think I’m blogging again. Living life like it’s 2005!
This has nothing to do with fibre arts, but rather my main gig, which is genetic counseling. And the teaching of GC students. Why here? Well, I own the domain, and given all the problems with Medium and Substack and whatnot, I thought I might as use this site that is currently (honestly) not being used for much else. So here we go.
This is a series of recommended readings for GCs and students, and aspiring GCs, and anyone else interested in the intersection of genetics and literature. It’s going to be an unorthodox collection–you won’t find Middlesex, or the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, or anything by Jodi Picoult (who ends up on these reading lists with My Sister’s Keeper, usually). It will reflect my own taste in fiction and essay writing, and therefore is likely to be a bit weird at times. I’d also encourage you to purchase these recommendations from your local indie bookseller, or read them via your local library.
Are you ready?
The first piece in this series is Danielle Evans‘ “Happily Ever After,” which opens her new short story collection The Office of Historical Corrections. Lyssa, the main character, works in a Titanic-themed party venue and is grieving the loss of her mother, who died from what seems to be an HBOC-related cancer. Don’t get too hung up on the details, or trying to figure out exactly what syndrome she had–this is the kind of thing that it makes it impossible to teach The Death of Ivan Ilyich to physicians, who are wont to ignore the literary aspects in favour of arguing about whether the symptoms are more suggestive of stomach or pancreatic cancer.
Evans is a skilled writer. The absurdity of the Titanic-themed venue isn’t played for laughs but is another part of Lyssa’s reality, which also includes the absurdity–and desperation, and unfairness–of what she as a young Black woman must do to advocate for medical care for her mother. After the story ended, this paragraph stuck with me, and has for weeks:
“There was always something they wouldn’t tell everybody, and she wanted to be told, which meant she had to look like a real person to them, like a person whose mother deserved to live, like someone who loved somebody. Whatever information they weren’t going to give her, whatever medicine they didn’t bother trying on Black women, she would have to ask to get, would have to ask for directly so that it went in the file if they refused, but ask for without seeming stupid or possessive or cold. She would have to be poised and polite through her frustration, which, thankfully, retail had prepared her for. Tell me what you would tell a white woman, her face said. A white woman with money, her clothes said.”
The whole collection is worth reading. If you want a taste of Evans’ brilliance, check out the devastating “Anything Could Disappear” available for free at Electric Lit.