Category Archives: Uncategorized

the trouble with silkworms

a silkworm caterpillar begins to spin

Why silkworms? Are you nuts? How gross, and besides, you have to kill the “worms”. Not true, my friends, not true. I can’t raise sheep in my yard, fluffy bunnies don’t like the heat, so silkworms were my next choice.
The trouble with silkworms is that you always decide to hatch more eggs than you need, “just in case”. So far, I have been lucky and had good hatching rates. I don’t stifle my cocoons, so all silkworms that survive pupation are allowed to emerge naturally.
Did you know that adult silk moths have no mouthparts, and can not eat? Bombyx mori is the only fully domesticated insect, and in fact, is so domesticated that it cannot live without human husbandry. Both the caterpillars and moths are completely harmless, and the caterpillars are an important food source in some countries, but not at my house.
Yes, the orange and yellowish green cocoons are naturally colored, but the color will go away when I process and degum the fibers, after the moths emerge.
 I would encourage anyone who is interested in fiber animals to do some research into sericulture.

garden nerd

purple peppers

I am, among other things, a garden nerd. I wear this sash proudly. There was no kindergarten offered in the rural area where I grew up, so before first grade, I learned to read seed catalogs, and I practiced basic penmanship while filling out extra seed order forms. The catalogs would begin to arrive after Christmas, when the desert landscape was still gray and dormant. If I was bored with our limited black-and-white television viewing selections, I would curl up before bed and methodically plan which flower and vegetable varieties were best for my imaginary, grown-up garden. Every year I still celebrate the arrival of the seed catalogs.

Gardening depends on water, and in my part of the world, most of this water is “fossil water”, stored millions of years ago in invisible ghost aquifers, often hundreds of feet below the ground. Everyone should have to see a well being drilled. The effort, uncertainty, and equipment are impressive and intimidating. As the well is drilled, once the water starts coming in, the drill rig must periodically clean the mud and sludge out of the bore hole. The muddy discharge results in a soothing mud wallow for children looking for outdoor fun in 115 degree heat. Sometimes shelves of solid rock frustrate the heaviest and sharpest of drill bits. When I was a kid, the only remedy for that situation was a case of dynamite. I kid you not. Back in the days before the crazy, mean shenanigans of the last few decades, dynamite was not so hard to get hold of, especially when well-drillers, miners, and the like could not do their jobs without it. A new well was an occasion for excitement and speculation for miles around. Everyone wondered if the property owner would actually end up with a functional well or just a dry hole. Worse still, the fossil water could be left over from an ancient sea, rather than a freshwater lake. A salt-water well is worse than no well in the desert. Unless you want to run a salt farm.

There has been an active salt brine operation in Glendale, Arizona since 1969. The was purchased by Morton Salt in 1985. There is a huge underground deposit of solid, crystalline salt in this location west of Phoenix. The Luke Salt Deposit is said to contain over 15 cubic miles of salt, possibly 10,000 miles deep, but no one has yet drilled to its bottom, so this remains an educated geological guess. Active brine wells reach about 3,600 feet. Water is injected into the two wells through dual-chambered casing, where it dissolves the salt and is then pumped back out. The brine is dehydrated in large, open earthen drying basins. Heavy equipment is used to periodically turn the semi-dry salt crystals. This is not food-grade salt, but is used for industrial purposes. For those who are interested, the mine, located on the north-east corner of Dysart and Glendale roads, is open to the public, call ahead for tour information. The the mildly curious can eyeball the mine from the passenger seat of a car driving north on Dysart.

A monsoon storm broke our 81 day streak of rainless days, the fourth longest on record. Rain was predicted for yesterday afternoon, and at some time after 9:00 p.m., I grew tired of waiting and watered the tender veggies, including my pet Hubbard squash. The rain arrived well after midnight. I told you I was a nerd.

knitting it old syle

The oldest known knitting in Europe is thought to have taken place in Spain, done by Moorish knitters who probably brought the technique of true knitting out of Egypt. Many such examples of this type of knitting, often topping twenty stitches to the inch, were found in Royal Spanish tombs in cathedrals, where royals were often buried. I have to wonder if these knitters were true employees, as the literature suggests, or were they nothing more than indentured servants or even slaves?

It is a generally accepted fact that the Spanish brought knitting to the Americas during the Conquest. However, textiles dated to around 1100 b.c. have been found in various regions of south America which bear all the marks of true knitting. If this is true, that would mean that what we consider true hand-knitting might have predated the origin of knitting in the middle east.

Knitting in south and central America has long been a man’s occupation, although in modern times women have taken up the art. Knitting needles are often made of discarded bicycle wheel spokes, creating a very fine gauge textile. The indigenous people of this region certainly had a number of fiber producing animals.

 Cotton is indigenous to tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world, and was domesticated independently in both the Old World and the New. Cotton fibers, especially short staple cotton, are hard to process by hand. It can be spun into yarn with even the most simple of hand spindles, but in the New World the textile record suggests that cotton was used much more for weaving than knitting. In their natural state, cotton plants can live ten years or more, especially in frost-free areas. Some of the colored strains of cotton can grow as large as a small tree, and I have had Peruvian Brown cotton plants grow to over eight feet tall in just one growing season.

Cotton is still widely harvested by hand in many regions of the world. It was not until the 1950’s that mechanized harvesting equipment came into wide use in most of the developed world. Dried cotton pod edges are sharp, and cotton is very heavy for its relative mass. Hand harvesting is stoop labor at the most demanding level you could ever imagine.

With modern processing methods, and creative fiber blends, cotton makes great sock yarn. It is not very stretchy, so it benefits from a little nylon or spandex, and a silk-cotton blend makes a heavenly pair of summer socks.

The U.S.-Mexico border is as fluid and drapey as the best high-dollar sock yarn. The Tucson Sector is currently the most traveled part of our southern border. Only about ten percent of all border crossers are apprehended. A good number of those crossers are not Mexican, but many do come from central and south America, Asia, and the mid-east. I wonder if any of those folks are carrying knitting needles?

Peruvian Brown cotton boll in my fiber garden

Keep Your Borders Beautiful

Resting at the Summit

Knitters respond to borders by performing a technique known as binding off. After we bind off, we might decide to add knitted or crocheted lace. We might even embellish our borders with beads, tassels, or fringe.

We often feel compelled to decorate our borders. A border needs care. It can be the weakest part of a garment. Sometimes what we do to our borders in the guise of beauty actually results in a stronger border. Those who ignore proper care of their borders may have to live with curled-up edges that are very hard to maintain. If the border is not properly blocked and handled after cleaning, the garment may never be the same again. Some are process knitters, who knit for the sheer joy of the act of knitting itself, so they don’t care.

What is binding off? This basic knitting technique securely finishes your last row of knitting, or beginning of an armhole or neckline. If one tends to be a tight knitter, you will want to be especially careful with your tension, or you will end up with a bacon-like edge. (Think Michael Jordan tee-shirt commercial.) If you have chronic problems with your bind off tension, just go up one or even two sizes on the needles you use for your bind off.

You can even practice different types of bind off techniques with scraps of yarn and all of your different sizes of needles. These can be mounted on scrapbook cardstock with those cute little brads made just for such a purpose. You can  label your swatches with those little manilla tags that come pre-fitted with string. That way, when you refer to your collection of bind off samples, you will actually be able to remember what you did, and how. Don’t forget to slide your finished pages into archival page protectors and store them in a big three-ring binder.

Borders are liminal places. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, liminal is defined as:

of or relating to a sensory threshold

 barely perceptible

of relating to or being an intermediate state, phase or condition

This applies in all cases, whether dealing with the border of a garment or the border of a nation. In ancient times, edges and borders were considered dangerous place where unknown, malicious forces lurk. In order to counter these evil forces, the ancients resorted to all manner of decoration and protective charms, much like the magpie knitters among us today. Beads, tassels, spangles, dangles, bells and mirrors dispelled evil and displayed social status. You might want to do some personal research on ancient garment decoration. You will be amazed and inspired.