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Archive for the ‘Knitting/Spinning’ Category

Spinning in China, or at least in Shenzhen, is a bit of a novelty. It’s quite normal to see someone sitting on a tiny stool in the street knitting, but when I sit and spindle in public, I immediately draw a crowd.

They ask questions in Chinese and we try to communicate in sign language. Some of it gets through, but most is lost on the wind. Almost no one passes by without having a long look and even men will stop and watch for a while.

It’s not that spinning isn’t done here. I know of a factory in Hebei where the owner has some 500 women employed, just for hand spinning. I hope to get up there one day; I’d really like to see that.

Chinese spinning wheels are not what most of us would expect to see. They were invented in China about 1000 years ago in response to the ever increasing demand for silk. There are many paintings depicting them as they were…

…and today, they look pretty much the same. I’d really like to see them in use. They cost about $250, which is expensive for the average worker or family so I dare say that many families make their own.

Although my knitting mojo appears to have abandoned me for the time being, my spinning mojo has not.  Recently, I’ve managed a box full of homespun of all sorts and what a delight it was.

I spun some glorious natural black llama, which I bought at the Bendi Sheep Show….oh how I wish I had bought more of this. However, I did end up with 417 delightful yards of fingering weight yarn. It’s super soft and has a lovely sheen. This is much blacker in real life….but you can see the lovely shine it has.

And there are now 610 yards of natural fawn alpaca/silk – sport (ish) weight.

This 1450 yds of  Canopy – somewhere between sport and double knit weight – used to be 690g of SCF swBFL/Tussah batts. I am in awe of this colourway. It’s wonderfully rich and should look a little tweedy.

SCF Polwarth in Green Tea netted me 510 yards of sport(ish) weight yarn. I cannot for the life of me get this colour right in a photo. I have tried so many times to get the olive tones right, but the light here is harsh, and I seem unable to capture this them correctly. This is as close as I could get.

This is SCF merino/baby alpaca in Mahogany. I doubt I’ll knit this one at night, but the colour is incredible. It has so many tiny flecks of colour through it that on first glance you just don’t notice. I love this one!  In real life this is darker, think deliciously rich dark chocolate with those tiny flecks of colour.

Haven’t I been the busy girl then?

Love Over Gold – SCF Polwarth. I’ll never cease to be amazed at how much yardage you can get from this particular fibre. I spun up 530 yards of heavy fingering from 115 g. It’s a little thick and thin, but actually I don’t mind that.

TADA!!!  Am I pleased with myself?  Yes sir!

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China, October 2010

An acquaintance reminded me of hot water bottles yesterday and it brought to mind that I had seen them in the supermarket across the street. Not the real, old fashioned rubber ones like I remember from my childhood, rather, they are made from  some synthetic looking material, patterned all over with something suitably kitch. They are cheap though and come with a cover. I was almost tempted to buy one just to test it out, but I kept on and let the impulse pass.

The weather is cooling though and the high temperatures have gone, taking the humidity with them. That said, the temperatures are a lovely low to mid 20s most days and its very pleasant. The students – and teachers who have been here for some time – are coming to school in proper jackets and woollen scarves. I look on and wonder what they will wear when it gets really cold, as many have told me it will. Mind you, people’s perceptions of what is cold can be very different. I am still sleeping with my aircon set at 17 degrees and I find mornings on the terrace with a cuppa and the news, delightful. Weekdays are not so great because its dark when I get up now, but if I shower first, daylight is usually there by the time I’m done.

I suppose this is Autumn, but I see no glorious show of oranges and yellows yet; the trees remain beautifully green and some are still flowering. I love this weather and I hope it lasts a good long time.

Still, with the inevitability of winter comes the thought that maybe it will be cold enough to wear wool and to this end, I spun up a kilo of fibre, ( though I cant remember what kind as it wasn’t labelled ), and ended up with nearly 1200 yds of aran weight wool, which is very soft and should be enough for a cardi.

At the same time I have a shawl underway, but that is more for pretty than winter warmth.  Part of me really wants to knit practical things that I will wear, lovely jumpers or cardis, but I do so like knitting lace, and one can never have too many shawls I think. (though I tend to give mine away as gifts)

I have not yet told you about my fishy experiences. I started out with a goldfish bowl and went through a variety of fish which just didn’t seem to like it much and died fairly quickly. It turns out that the water here is too highly chlorinated for these wee beasties and even the water conditioner they gave me doesn’t do the trick. So I did some reading and it seems that if you leave water sitting out for 24 hours, the chlorine evaporates and you have non-chlorinated water. Yoho….off to the supermarket – which has the best variety of fish around here – to buy fishies.  To cut a long story short, the bowl was not ideal. I had to clean the water once a week and it already had a crack in it along the base. I envisioned coming home one day and finding the floor wet with flippy floppy fish doing the death dance.  (little did I know)  So off I went and bought a small – and I do mean small – tank. It’s big enough for 9 small fish (I was told). This little tank comes with a filter which means no weekly water change. Excellent!!!

With my new little tank set up, complete with brightly coloured pebbles and plastic plants (I am in China after all), I went off to fish shop and came home with 6 small Tiger Barbs. However, I have discovered that these little ones should really be called ‘Suicide Fish’!  Yes folks, with great regularity, these little buggers do a free Willy and toss themselves over the edge of the tank, across the width of the bookshelf and onto the floor 3 feet below, where no doubt they do the flippy floppy death dance. By the time I get home, they are stiff as a board.

Tigers like to have a small school to swim with so only having one or two isn’t ideal. This little tidbit of knowledge and their suicidal tendencies means I have become a regular customer in the aquarium section in the supermarket. I tried colourful Tetras once, but they are so small that a couple swam up the inlet pipe of the filter and gulp….ended up as fish mince. I thought I’d give the others a fighting chance and flushed them. The sewers seemed to be a better bet than the mincer and fish aren’t really that smart, I’ve found.

I like the tigers, they are generally active and playful and seem to have a little spirit, but no matter how much I scold them, they continue to commit hari-kari.  It’s a good thing that you can’t really get attached to a fish. Im experimenting right now with smaller groups and different breed mixes, but it makes no difference. To the tigers,my floor apparently has greater appeal than two squares a day and a friendly chat now and then.

Our supermarket (where I buy the fishies) is quite a cool place. It’s part of a smallish mall where you can buy anything from flat screen TVs to computers  to manchester etc. All the little stores are open fronted; in fact, they look more like they are part of a department store than anything else. When you buy something you get an invoice, which you take to a central cashier; then you take the receipt back to the vendor and collect your goods. Only cashiers handle money, regardless of which little outlet you buy from. The supermarket is on the 3rd floor and operates the same way as supermarkets all over the world. It has most normal foodstuffs, but things like cocoa or butter, for example, are absent; the Chinese don’t use them so they are not stocked. I usually head to the fresh food section where it gets more interesting.  Along with the usual fruit and veges, live fish and eels are available straight from the tank. These tanks are really full and some fish lie upside down on the floor of the tank, having already given up trying to swim in such a small crowded area. These tanks are meant to keep the fish alive (till someone buys them for dinner) rather than provide them with a place to live. Freshness is paramount in Chinese cuisine.

If you don’t want to buy frozen prawns, then grab one of the nets and catch some live ones to put into a baggy to take home. You can’t get much fresher than that! Crabs are lined up like soldiers, their legs tied so they cant move, blackened smoked pork is piled high on a counter close to the crabs and it smells wonderful. Butchers are split into meat types, so you have your chicken guys and your pork guys etc. Chinese sausages are piled high in different places, set to tempt you as you walk by. Having meat out in the open like that wouldn’t happen in our world, but here, it is completely normal and I love the different smells.

Mushrooms are amazing here if you are partial to a bit of fungus and though you wont find an iceberg lettuce, you will find cos (which is delicious cooked) and so many different leafy greens that no-one could possibly be iron deficient. Rice is loose in open wooden bins, and there seems to be a large variety. Though I can tell the difference between Basmati and Thai, short and long grain, I believe after looking at it, that the difference may be a quality thing….but don’t quote me.

This same area also houses the cooked food section where duck, chicken and pork hang ready to be cut and packaged up for your convenience. Dim sum is there in abundance and noodle soup, with your choice of meat, veg and/or dumplings can be made on the spot in about 3 minutes. Take away food is there is spades – fried noodles, stir fries, steamed buns and omelet type filled pancakes, even sushi and pizza have a place there.  Cakes and biccies and many sweet things I’m not familiar with, are also sold by weight. I always enjoy going in there because there is always something I haven’t seen before.  All the signs are in Chinese so usually, I have no idea what they are, though tasting is allowed. I have a great Chinese dictionary on my phone but it’s English to Chinese, not the other way round. It’s very useful and my vocabulary is growing…slowly, but I doubt that I will ever be able to read.

This last week I went down to an area called Dongmen. It is supposed to be an older area where you can buy antiques and textiles and I wanted to see what they had, and what they called an older area keeping in mind that the city is only 30 years old. It was singularly unexciting and I couldn’t find the older section I was looking for. I shall have to get better directions or go with someone Chinese. What I found there was a central plaza surrounded by all the fast food chains you can think of, and in amongst these, designer shops selling Levi or Adidas. Quite possibly they were all fake, but it wasn’t what I wanted to see. I wandered into the smaller streets surrounding the plaza but these were filled with tiny alleyways of cheap clothing and nick nacks. In the end I gave up and went home to walk in the park because it was such a gorgeous day, though I tend to steer clear of the open grassy area because at the weekends, it teems with families and kite fliers.

Well thats about it really, not a hugely newsworthy month, but I kind of like the peaceful life I am enjoying considering this is a city of 14million people.

Stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling

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I think I have finally worked out how to use my spinning wheel, and in getting that right….and I say this loosely because there is very definitely room for improvement….I have managed to build a small stash of homespun here in Shenzhen. It was most frustrating until I finally worked out the tension knob, which made a huge difference because suddenly, the wheel wasn’t grabbing the fibre from my hands and breaking it every 5 seconds. There is a long way to go until I have complete control, but the yarn I am turning out is very, very usable and that makes me happy. The pics are in the order I spun them.

Number 1 off the wheel;  135 yds of chunky thick and thin alpaca/merino from 200g

135 yds of chunky thick and thin alpaca/merino from 200g

then;  138 yds of chunky autumn coloured BFL superwash from 100g

and;  481 yds of aran/chunky NZ polwarth from 300g

With a markedly lighter workload at this new job, I have evenings and weekends to myself. The weather here is now cooling and as it does that, I will be more tempted to go exploring. It was 18 degrees here this morning and students….and teachers who have been here a long time….arrived in thick fleece jackets! I thought it was delightfully cool and later in the day the sun came out and heated up the day to a nice 22. Who can complain about that!!

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