Sunday, October 19, 2008

How to cook a goose quill

I am the Procrastination Queen. I've had a handful of goose quills lying around for so long I literally don't remember when I got hold of them, but it was a loooong time ago. Always meant to get serious about learning how to make quill pens; never really had the nerve to just jump in and see what would happen.

Then this month's gardening magazine came in the post and turned out to contain a recipe for berry ink. I didn't recognise the berries they used in the recipe, but they said that privet berries were also used at one time to make ink (in fact, one of the German names for the thing translates literally as ink berries), and we have loads of those in the garden. It was too much to resist. On Friday I picked 150g of privet berries, dumped them in 250ml of vinegar with about half a teaspoon of alum added, and left the brew to stand for the stipulated 12-24 hours prior to boiling it up and straining it.

Now, the problem with this ink is that it's essentially coloured vinegar -- it's so acidic that you can't put it in a fountain pen. Or so the recipe says. The only things that it's safe to use with are steel nibs and... goose quills. In other words, if I wanted to be able to do anything with my homemade ink I was either going to have to invest in some steel-nib dip pens or confront my procrastination head on.

Enter the Internet. A bit of Googling yielded a youtube video on how to make pens (not terribly helpful, in the event, except to make the process look less daunting) and a page on that was a tad more specific on how to temper your quills: heat fine sand in oven to about 180°C, take sand out of oven, stick quills in sand, leave to cool.

OK, I suppose I can do that...

So I did that yesterday. Left the sand in the oven for about 40 minutes, then cut the ends off three of my five quills, stuck them into the sand, and let them sit. When the sand had cooled, sure enough the shafts were visibly opaque compared to the two untreated ones, and both felt and sounded noticeably harder and more brittle too. As this is apparently the effect one wants to get from cooking the quills, I concluded that my sand had been hot enough.

Two untreated quills (note translucency of shafts)
and two tempered ones.

Next up: a penknife. The wisegeek site is useless when it comes to how to cut the nibs (at least, I can't make head or tail of what they say), so I did it by extrapolating from the appearance of fountain pen and dip pen nibs. It turns out that cutting the heat-treated quills is much easier than cutting untempered ones; they become rigid enough not to yield to the knife and so you can work quite precisely to shape the tips. OK, I need more practice at that, but I'm quite impressed that I managed to produce a reasonably fine tip on my very first quill.

Shown with a ruler (centimetres) for scale.
My nib is about 0.5mm wide.

Writing with this quill proved to be surprisingly easy and rather pleasant (though I did get a slight sputtering effect which I hope to be able to eliminate as my shaping skills improve). It lets down the ink incredibly easily, allowing you to write with almost zero pressure on the paper -- I wish this were possible with my fountain pens! Mind you, it also makes fairly loud scratching noises while you write... even though I was using the smoothest paper I've got, which is some 100g/m² colour copying paper that I bought for doing high-quality laser printouts. I tried ordinary printer paper first, but that stuff just sucks my homemade ink right up and all you get is blots and blurs. We're talking low-tech here, people. :)

And here's a writing sample. Click the pic to view larger.

The ink is intriguing to use. It isn't very opaque at all, but semitransparent like watercolour paint, and the most striking thing is that it changes colour as you write! As it comes off the nib it's a reddish mulberry shade, but changes colour as it dries to the pastel turquoise that you can see in the photo. Two things I'm not completely keen on are the vinegary smell of the stuff and its very thin consistency. I wonder if it'd be possible to boil up the privet berries in something else, possibly even water, and to add some kind of thickening agent. But on the whole, this has been a fun and encouraging experiment. I'm quite motivated to try my hand at one of those permanent black ink recipes next -- the ones involving egg yolks, honey, and lampblack. Or the ones involving oak galls and vitriol. And perhaps I should save some logwood from next year's Easter egg dyeing session, because who knows?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pomatomus gloves: Instructions for hand extension and fingers

These were requested on Ravelry, so here they are for your knitting pleasure. Instructions begin just after completion of the thumb gusset. You should have placed the 21 thumb gusset stitches on waste yarn, closed the remaining hand stitches to round, and finished working the 4th pattern repeat before diving into the instructions in this post.

To start the pinky before the remaining fingers for a better fit, work 5 (not 11) rows of the 5th repeat. Then start the pinky as follows:

Rib 5 sts from palm, co 7, rib 8 sts from back = 20 sts
rib 24 rds, then work fingertip as follows:

cddr = centred double decrease over ribbing: sl 1 (a knit st), p 1, pass next knit st on left needle over just-purled st, pass slipped knit st over purled st

rd 25: p1, cddr, rib 3, cddr, rib 3, cddr, rib 4 = 14 sts
rd 26: rib 3, cddr, rib 3, cddr, rib 2 = 10 sts
rd 27: p1, cddr, p1, cddr, rib 2 = 6 sts
graft off

Hand extension
m2 on palm side to rt of held sts, k held sts in patt, pick up 7 out of the 7 sts cast on between palm and back sts of pinky finger = 68 sts. Place marker 6 sts before end of rd.
Next rd: work in patt.
Next 4 rds: work in patt; in each rd k tog the 2 sts after the marker = 64 sts

Ring finger:
Rib 9 sts from palm, co 3, 14 from back = 26 sts
rib 31 rds, then work fingertip as follows:
rd 32: rib 6, cddr, p1, cddr, rib 7, cddr, p1, cddr = 18 sts
rd 33: rib 3, cddr, p1, cddr, rib 3, cddr, p1, cddr = 10 sts
rd 34: p1, cddr, p3, cddr = 6 sts
rib 2, graft off

Middle finger:
Rib 9 sts from palm, co 5, rib 11 from back, pick up 3 from side of ring finger = 28 sts
rib 39 rds
rd 40: rib 9, cddr, p1, cddr, rib 7, cddr, p1, cddr = 20 sts
rd 41: rib 5, cddr, p1, cddr, rib 3, cddr, p1, cddr = 12 sts
rd 42: rib 2 cddr, rib 3, cddr = 8 sts
graft off

Index finger:
Rib 9 from palm, rib 12 from back, pick up 7 from side of middle finger = 28 sts
rib 31 rds
rd 32: rib 6, cddr, p1, cddr, rib 7, cddr, p1, cddr = 20 sts
rd 33: rib 4, cddr, p1, cddr, rib 3, cddr, p1, cddr = 12 sts
rd 34: rib 3, cddr, rib 3, cddr, = 8 sts
rib 3, graft off

k 21 held sts from thumb gusset, pick up 7 sts to close rd = 28 sts
rib 28 rds
rd 29: rib 2, cddr, p1, cddr, rib 9, cddr, p1, cddr = 20 sts
rd 30: cddr, p1, cddr, rib 5, cddr, p1, cddr, p1 = 12 sts
rd 31: cddr, p5, cddr, p1 = 8 sts
rib 1, graft off

Note: It's been a while since I finished the gloves, and the information for shaping the fingertips is given as best I can remember it; there may be inaccuracies, there may be typos (please do let me know if you find any such), and you may have to improvise a bit, but I think that I've remembered enough of it to give you a general idea of how to work the decreases over ribbing. Also, you may find that, to finish a decreasing rd as indicated here, you need cheat and include the first st of the following rd as well; this didn't create any problems for me while I was working the fingers.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pomatomus gloves: thumb gusset instructions

A couple of people on Ravelry asked for these,
so here they come.

Materials: Lang Merino 150 Superwash, 150m/50g, 2mm needles

Left glove

Cast on 72sts as for Cookie A's Pomatomus socks, work two pattern repeats from Chart A.

Thumb gusset:

Note: you will need to use CHART B to work the straight edge to either side of the thumb gusset at the same time as you're working the thumb gusset. See further down for how.

The thumb gusset begins in the first rd of the third pattern repeat.

Rd. 1: Work 24 sts in patt, then: place marker, m1 by knitting tbl into the k2tog of the previous rd, place marker, cont in patt to end of rd. (Note for reference: your rounds will begin and end at the pinky finger edge of your hand; the thumb gusset begins two-thirds of the way around on the palm side.)

Rd. 2 & 3: Work in patt, knitting the single st between markers tbl.

Rd. 4: Work in patt to marker, slip marker, *m1 by knitting tbl into the horizontal strand of yarn before the next st on the left needle*, k1tbl, repeat **, slip marker, cont in patt to end of rd.

Rd. 5 & 6: Work in patt, knitting the 3 sts betw markers tbl.

Rd 7: Work in patt to marker, sl m, k1tbl, *m1 by purling tbl into horizontal strand of yarn before the next st on the left needle*, k1tbl, rep **, k1tbl, sl m, cont in patt. (5 sts between markers)

Rd 8 & 9: Work in patt; work sts between markers as you find them.

Rd. 10: Work in patt to marker, sl m, k1tbl, *m1 by knitting tbl into the horizontal strand of yarn before the next st on the left needle*, rib next 5 sts, rep **, k1tbl, sl m, cont in patt. (7 sts between markers)

Rd. 11 & 12: Work in patt; work sts between markers as you find them.

You get the idea. The thumb gusset is taking shape between the markers: it begins and ends with a border stitch knitted tbl with ribbing between them. You work the gusset increases every third row by making 1 st on either side of the gusset to the inside of the border stitch. The new sts you make will alternate between knit and purl to create regular ribbing.

Continue working the thumb gusset increases until you have 21 sts between markers. You will work two more rds over these 21 sts before putting your gusset sts on waste yarn and continuing to work the hand over the remaining sts.

Now for what's happening at the same time on either side of the thumb gusset. To work a straight "seam" out of which the thumb gusset grows, proceed as follows:

For the first 5 rds of the third pattern repeat (i.e. while starting the gusset), work from Chart A as before. (Chart A is identical to Chart B here.) From the 6th round onwards, you need to follow Chart B on either side of the thumb gusset. Note that you'll work the left edge of the chart, i.e. the END of the chart pattern, on the palm side of your gusset (i.e. just BEFORE you get to the first marker) and the right edge of the chart, i.e. the BEGINNING of the chart pattern, on the back-of-hand side (i.e. AFTER you've worked the gusset stitches and slipped the second marker). It's counter-intuitive, but trust me!

So round 6 goes as follows: Work the "repeat twice" section of Chart B twice (identical to working Chart A), yo, sl m, work gusset sts, sl m, p1, k1tbl, p1, k1tbl, p1, k2tog tbl, k1tbl, p1, k1tbl, p1, k1tbl, work "repeat twice" section to end of rd.

Rd 7: Work "repeat twice" section twice, yo, k1tbl, work gusset, p1, k1tbl, p1, k1tbl, p1, k2tog tbl, p1, k1tbl, p1, k1tbl, work "repeat twice" section to end of rd.

Rd. 8: Work "repeat twice" section twice, yo, p1, k1tbl, work gusset, p1, k1tbl, p1, k1tbl, p1, k2tog tbl, k1tbl, p1, k1tbl, work "repeat twice" section to end of rd.

Etc. etc. It looks more complicated in print than it is when you start doing it!

Now. Remember the bit in Cookie's sock instructions about rearranging stitches at the start of each new pattern repeat? When you finish the third repeat you'll only be two-thirds of the way up the thumb gusset, and rearranging stitches with the gusset in the way is obviously not an option. Luckily you don't need to do anything on the palm side of the gusset because of the extra knit stitch at the left edge of Chart B. On the back-of-hand side knit together the last knit stitch before the marker with the knit stitch after the marker. Put this stitch on the right (gusset) side of the marker. Continue the round in patt as normal (yo, k2tog tbl, p1, k1tbl etc.)

Work 11 rd of the 4th pattern repeat.

In 12th rd, put thumb gusset sts on waste yarn and continue working the hand in patt over the remaining 72 sts. You will find that the sts just before and after the thumb gusset will dovetail neatly into the pattern of Chart A. Finish the 4th pattern repeat ***and work the first 11 rows of the 5th to get to the height of the finger crotches.***

(For a better fit, though, it's best to start the pinky further down from the rest of the fingers and knit a hand extension over the other three fingers to bring the crotches up to the correct height. If anyone wants step-by-step instructions on how to do this, comment and I'll post them.)

Update, 17 July 2008: Instructions for hand extension and fingers are in the post following this one. Instructions for hand extension commence at the bit between triple asterisks (***...***) above.

For the right glove, start the thumb gusset after working 48 sts in patt in the first row of the 3rd pattern repeat, in all other respects the right and left gussets are identical. For the straight seam on either side of the gusset: remember: right edge of Chart B on palm side, left edge of Chart B on back-of-hand side.

To mirror the Pomatomus pattern, save copies of Chart A and Chart B, open the files in your favourite graphics editor, flip them around their vertical axis, save, and print. You can then knit them as you did the regular ones, substituting k2tog where the chart says k2tog tbl.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

FO: Pomatomus gloves reloaded

I really love this pattern, and the results of the sockyarn experiment (in the course of which I had to figure out the details of the thumb gusset and how to get the fingers to grow nicely out of the pattern) were encouraging enough that I thought I'd give it another go in merino. (Much softer on the skin, merino.)

So here they are. I'm pleased to be able to report that the notes I jotted down while doing the first pair seem to be accurate and reproducible, with the result that knitting the second pair was much less stressful than the first. :)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

WIP: Pomatomus glove

Finished the left glove yesterday and cast on for the right.

For a while there I was worried that the thumb gusset might turn out too tight after all, but in the event it's exactly right. And I'm rather pleased with the way the ribbing from the pattern flows into the straight rib of the fingers/thumb. (Colour me relieved, on both counts.)

Preliminary impression of progress on right glove: Seems to be going well. I've done one pattern repeat so far and mirroring the fishscale pattern proved to be easier than I'd feared.