December Book Club: The Whale Rider

949039The copy I have of this book is a gift from one of my best friends, who purchased a used copy because he knows that I have a soft spot for books that have lived a life before coming into my possession.

It’s worth noting, before even diving into this review (see what I did there?), that the language used in this book is poetically descriptive and sets a beautiful landscape for our story. I love that each part of the book was separated by an update of the whales and what they were up to. It was a nice parallel between what was happening on shore.

The Whale Rider is a beautiful story that looks at the intersection of tradition and change. More specifically Ihimaera focuses on this idea that change does not mean the dying of tradition, but rather the strengthening of it for future generations. Kahu spends her days wanting to learn more about her culture, despite the idea that only men can carry on the tradition. When it comes time for the day to be saved, Men are called into action but are unable to make a difference on their own. Kahu, in her white dress and ribbons, finds herself knowing what to do and dives into the water to become a whale rider.

Kahu’s potential sacrifice marked a turning point for the “elders” of her tribe and the whales. As her Paka came to the realization that she was the leader he was looking for and the whale came to the realization that his original rider had moved on, Kahu risked her life to save both. Each, in turn, realizing how special the child is and how they had been living in the past.

I found myself becoming lost in this story and could hear the waves crash upon the shore. Though this was a quick read, I didn’t find myself longing for more story or more detail. The pacing of the tale and Ihimaera’s ability to put me into the story as if I was sitting in the room with the narrator, Kahu’s Uncle, listening to him tell me a story about his niece and why she is special.

It is unclear, at this time, if I will sacrifice the images I’ve created of the people I have experienced by watching the movie. A part of me fears that adaptation will miss some of the nuances that I have come to love.

For January’s book club, we’ll be stepping back into historical fiction with the Australian novel Picnic at Hanging RockWhile I don’t typically read a lot of historical fiction, I stumbled upon this title while looking for something to watch on Amazon Prime and was taken aback by the trailer. This book, I believe, will be the gothic horror that I was hoping to find in November’s book club.

791345It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred.

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves.


On habitats: Part 3 Synthetic Plant Fibers Continued

The “On habitats” series is designed to help me (us) take a moment and reflect on where the fiber in our yarn comes from. Part One of this series looked at Natural Plant Fibers, Part two: Synthetic Plant Fibers took a look at tencel, bamboo and corn. We’ll finish off synthetic plant fibers this week with soy, rayon, and modal.


Soy: According to Interweave, the first time soy was used as a textile was in the 1930s, when Henry Ford produced car-seat upholstery by blending soybean and sheep’s wool. Soybeans have a high protein content and are currently being produced in large quantities by the United States and China.

There are five main steps to creating soybean fiber, the first being the extraction of oil. Soybeans are cleaned, cracked, decorticated and dehulled before being conditioned and steeped in hexane. The hexane solution collects the oil, which can be extracted and reused. The soybean is then passed through a steam pipe to be rinsed of the solvent.

Next, the soybean is soaked in a 1% sodium sulfite solution for around an hour then filtered. This results in a creamy-white powder that is then dissolved into an alkaline solution. This solution is then allowed to age until it develops the proper consistency for spinning. The fiber is then formed by wet spinning or forcing the spinning solution through a spinneret.

Finally, the fibers are treated to baths that help it develop stretching and hardening properties. From here, the fiber can be blended and dyed.

This process doesn’t appear too bad, until you begin to look into the beans themselves. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the soybean industry is causing widespread deforestation and displacement. Many are calling for transparent land use and an increase in proper safeguards, but until those come to pass this may not be the best yarn for an environmentally focused individual.


Rayon: Rayon has an interesting history as an alternative to silk starting in the 1860s when the French silk industry was threatened by a disease affecting the silkworm. In 1885, Count Hilaire de Chardonnet patented the first successful process of creating a silk-like fiber from cellulose and is considered the father of rayon (despite more cost-effective ways of being created nowadays).

The major sources of the cellulose used for creating rayon include pine, spruce, hemlock, and cotton linters (residue fibers which clung to cotton seeds after the ginning process).  Regardless of whether wood pulp or cotton linters are used, the materials must be processed to extract/purify the cellulose. This results in sheets that are steeped in sodium hydroxide, dried, shredded into crumbs and aged in metal containers for 2-3 days.

Next, the crumbs are combined and churned with liquid carbon disulfide and then bathed in sodium hydroxide again. The honey-like solution (look and feel) then has any dyes or delusterants added before being filtered and stored to age (4-5 days).

After aging, the solution is forced through a spinneret and into an acid bath. Once bathed in acid, the fiber can be spun into yarn.

Unfortunately, the chemical by-products of rayon have received a lot of attention as they generate a lot of water and air emissions (the worst being zinc and hydrogen sulfide). Producers are currently trying different techniques to reduce pollution, and as the demand for rayon grows so does the demand for new technologies that make rayon better and cheaper.


Modal: Modal comes from pure beech tree chips and is more or less a variety of rayon. The main difference between modal and rayon is that rayon can be made of variety or materials, while modal is only made from beech trees.

In other words, modal is made using the same process as rayon and has the same concerns. That being said, like rayon steps are being taken to make the process better and cleaner.

Main Takeaways: I think the main thing I’ve taken away from my readings on synthetic fibers is that there is no way to make them perfect. Even if the process to make the fiber is sustainable, the farming technique often isn’t (although the same can be said about cotton, which is not synthetic). All in all, I’m not sure there are many changes that I will make to my knitting — as I work mostly with animal fibers — but the curiosity around using bamboo yarn is no longer there. As this project continues, it will be interesting to learn about how chemicals are sneaking their way into my knitting. I may end up breaking my spinning wheel back out and going straight to the sheep! Or at least upping my yarn snobbery to organic yarns, depending on what I learn about man-made synthetics and animal fibers.

Writers Block Cardigan

Two pocket pieces knit in Plymouth yarn Gina and Valley Yarns Northampton

Some patterns are addicting. Sometimes this makes sense, you’re excited to see a color work pattern take shape or you’re working with a textured stitch pattern that makes your brain giddy with the chant required to maintain it. The Writer’s Block Cardigan is neither of those things. In fact, it’s literally just garter stitched pieces that eventually need to be knit together. To make matters more mundane, the pieces aren’t significantly different from each other — two front pieces mirror the back piece until a handful of neck shaping rows. So, why couldn’t I put it down?

At first, I thought it was the use of a gradient yarn paired with a solid yarn. The combination of waiting to see how the color flowed from one to the next and the thick yarn meant that it felt as though progress was being made very quickly, even when it wasn’t. Since I typically knit in fingering or lace weight, I don’t think the instant gratification of this project was the thing that lead me daydreaming about working on it, nor do I think the gradient is playing a major role.

Completed sweater pieces soaking in water and Eucalan

Then I considered that I was knitting it for one of my best friends and they were really excited about wearing the finished product. Surely the constant checking in about the sweater’s progress would be enough to keep me reaching for it, but if you remember from my post On Knitting Deadlines, I don’t typically find motivation in them. In fact, the pressure to knit often leaves me reaching for different crafts.

So what has me staying up until 11pm (way way past my bedtime) and struggling to find TV shows to play in the background while I wait for the next round of podcasts to be released? What about this project has me eating through audiobooks and stressing about what to read next? Even as I write this, sitting down to specifically think about the reason, I can’t decern an answer.

Sweater pieces laying flat to dry

While knitting this project, I assumed that the obsessive momentum that carried me through knitting the individual pieces of the sweater would carry me through seaming it. After wet blocking and laying the pieces flat, I casted on Nuvem and waited for everything to dry. And dry, and dry. The only thing that inspired me to pick up the knit pieces was the fear of my dog deciding they would be a comfortable place to curl up, which would, in turn, mean that I had to rewash everything in order to get his black hair out.

It was almost a week before I started putting the pieces together. True, some of that was drying time, but it was as if my mind knew the act of seaming required more of my attention that I was ready to give after a long day of work. This time, it was the recipient that caused me to pick up the pieces and start putting it together. That and the fact that I was so close to being finished.

All in all, I am happy with this sweater and am toying with the idea of making it again. Though perhaps in a smaller size for myself, the recommended ease is a little too loose for me.

Completed cardigan hanging on a hanger
Writer’s block cardigan



Dyeing Experience with Smooth Rock Tripe

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It finally happened, I caught the natural dye bug. As I hike through the woods, I find myself wondering what color different things would bring to my yarn. Spending hours thumbing through beautifully illustrated natural dying books (Wild Color, The Modern Natural Dyer, and Harvesting Color, to name a few) piqued my interest, but it was not until my coworker started showing off her hand-dyed yarn that I started to become invested.

Fast forward almost a year, my coworker created a bath of Smooth Rock Tripe that she picked up while in Rhode Island and soaked for three months. The resulting dye bath looked very similar to grape juice, a dark rich purple, a color that our yarn sucked up happily and willingly.

This time around, I dyed three skeins: two of 100% wool (worsted weight) and one that began as a golden yellow. The color of the yarn post-bath and rinse is different from the dye color and the color of the yarn while in the bath. The smooth rock tripe created a cooper color when mixed with the golden yellow and a matte purple when allowed to sit on the 100% wool skeins — a very different color from the initial bath and my expectations. In other words, not exactly the look I was going for on the worsted yarn, but I’m still happy with the results.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of the cooper yarn. It will have to be used as an accent color or in a very small project. 440 yards of worsted weight is a good amount, however, I foresee at matching hat/mitten set in my future (or perhaps a wide woven scarf).

My coworker left behind some cooper water, which should create a green dye bath, and some dahlia water, which should create a yellow-orange color. I’m leaning towards dying over the worsted yarn to see if I can create a warmer color, or perhaps something with a bit of variegation. (If I end up dyeing over the worsted weight yarn, I’ll make sure to document what it looks like.)

All in all, I still feel the same way about dyeing (and spinning, when I think about it); I don’t have enough control of what I’m doing to provide me with the results I thought I was going to get. While this isn’t a bad thing and experimentation is fun, it would be nice to be in a place where I do have control and can plan out my projects.

November Book Club: The Clockmaker’s Daughter

38530939._SY475_For our second book club, I picked up the Clockmaker’s Daughter. Admittedly, this book came into my hands because of Downton Abbey. When I learned that the movie was coming out, I quickly finished the show — which I had stopped watching somewhere between the end of season 4 and the beginning of season 5 out of frustration (just let them be happy!) — so that I would feel up to date when I got around to watching the movie (which I still haven’t done despite having pre-purchased a ticket, I needed an evening in).

While all things come to an end, I knew my relationship with British media didn’t have to be one of them and a quick google search of “books like Downton Abbey” gave me access to several lists that had been curated by Buzzfeed, Amazon, Barnes and Nobel and readers on Goodreads. While there were some commonalities among the lists, I stumbled upon the Clockmaker’s Daughter when sampling books on Audible. It sounded like a dark love story, connecting people through time through archives. I was sold.

Then I started reading. The Clockmaker’s Daughter is well written with interesting themes, for example, the parallels between Birdie and Elodie (loving an artist and being the story they tell of themselves), and found that there was something missing. I think I’m spoiled by books like The Lies of Locke Lamora, which are told non linearly and keep the reader on their toes. I wanted more time spent on Birdie and her life and less on Elodie avoiding preparing for her marriage while trying to solve the mystery of the leather satchel. This is probably confounded by having limited opportunities to learn about the past from the first-person point of view due to the number of characters that tell the story between Birdie’s death and Elodie solving the mystery.

What did you think of the book? Leave a comment with your thoughts and I’ll write back to you.

As we move into cooler temperatures and summer nights fade into memories, I thought it would be fun to remember time spent at the beach and to read a book highly recommended by a poet in my life. December’s book club will be The Whale Runner (description below).

949039Eight-year-old Kahu, a member of the Maori tribe of Whangara, New Zealand, fights to prove her love, her leadership, and her destiny. Her people claim descent from Kahutia Te Rangi, the legendary “whale rider.” In every generation since Kahutia, a male heir has inherited the title of chief. But now there is no male heir, and the aging chief is desperate to find a successor. Kahu is his only great-grandchild–and Maori tradition has no use for a girl. But when hundreds of whales beach themselves and threaten the future of the Maori tribe, it is Kahu who saves the tribe when she reveals that she has the whale rider’s ancient gift of communicating with whales.