Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spinning Yarns

No, not story telling but actual yarn! When I was a teenager I spent thousands of hours volunteering at a living history museum and then thousands more working there. Among the many skills I learned was "spinning". I'm not sure if the adults kept us spinning yarn to avoid idle hands but it made for great demonstrations for visitors and provided the resident knitters with skeins of "homespun" or "handspun" as it's sometimes called.

There were spinning wheels on site but I preffered to use something called a "drop spindle". It's basically just a stick or shaft and a whorl and may or may not have a hook on one end. The whorl is usually a round disc made of wood that serves as a weight to help spin the shaft. Think of it like a long skinny top. Some styles lack the whorl and are just a tapered shaft that is heavier on one end. It is possible to spin on just a plain stick, a pencil or even a ball point pen. You just need a rod of some kind to "spin" so you can put "twist" into the yarn. I'd bet you could even spin using just a whorl if you wanted to. There is a lot of room for improvization.

After a very long break I realized that I kind of miss spinning. I have yet to learn to knit or crochet but homespun is often attractive enough to knitters that you can trade a skein of yarn for having them knit something. I really like the idea of having a hat and scarf knit from yarn spun by my own hand. It's also something that is highly portable. You can drop a spindle and some fiber in your bag and never feel like time waiting in line or sitting in waiting rooms is wasted.

Another interesting thing for me is the thought of spinning unusual fibers into yarn. Using wool as a carrier you can spin almost any fiber from animal hair to cotton and other plant fibers or synthetics like polyester. I don't know enough about knitting to know how you might use it but I have even seen paper spun into yarn. That's of course ignoring uses beyond knitting.

While spindles of many kinds are commercially available I decided to just make one. There are lots of ways to do this including stabbing a chopstick through a potato. For this one I am using a large bamboo chopstick but rather than a potato, formed a whorl from polymer clay. It's set up so that a rubber band looped a few times around the shaft above and below the whorl hold it in place. This is so that it can be easily removed and used as either a top or bottom whorl spindle. Either way works well, I just like having the option. (When assembled, the whorl was a snug slip fit and doesn't currently need the rubber bands.)

As far as something to spin goes, I have a family member who raises goats and it's possible to find wool on eBay for as little as 99 cents an ounce. An ounce of wool is actually a fair amount and there are tables available online to calculate how many ounces of wool/yarn it takes to make a piece of knitwork. So, I'll start with that and see where it goes! (Processing wool for spinning is a whole other game. Maybe another post...)

If anyone in the bay area wants help shearing sheep let me know. I'd be inclined to come help in exchange for some wool!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I heart kites!

I have been a kite addict ever since I was a small child and my uncle made a kite for us out of a blue paper shopping bag complete with his very own hand rendered Mickey Mouse drawing. It was fantastic! I remember how he carefully cut out the kite, drew Mickey and glued the edges in place over the string. I even recall digging through my grandmothers rag bag to get an old shirt to tear up for the tail. It flew beautifully and I eventually got to climb to the top of a tree I was normally warned off of to retrieve it. (I was the only one light enough for the small branches to hold.) Since then I have built a number of kites and have a collection of a dozen or so that I still take out regularly. I've been known to drive hours out of my way to visit Kaleidokites in Eureka Springs Arkansas. It's an all time favorite kite shop hidden in the Ozarks, another all time favorite.

Lately I've been fascinated with the idea of kites as both an emergency sail for sailboats and as a possible way to propel a power boat either as an emergency measure or just to avoid using fuel. One innovate company doing amazing things is California based Kiteship. They have been in the traction kite game for quite a while now and are doing incredible things with boats and kites. They've also popped up over at Instructables in chapter 12 of Tim Anderson's incredible free yacht saga.

As part of my own saga to eventually own a boat and with the possibility of yet again cross pollinating and combining more than one interest and  doing something practical, wow, I'll be keeping my ear to the ground and surely exploring this one more down the road.

You can see another article on kites I wrote for my Bay Area Dad blog here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Mechanical Mayhem Continues...

Wow, I'm all about making this motorcycle project work but it's turned systemic and it's one thing after another now. The gasket I made works great, got the new battery installed and made sure the points and condenser were dry using a hair dryer but there's still no spark. The most odd part of this is that it just sort of went bad sitting there. I'd understand if the thing was being run hard or even just run. Maybe points are just that finicky.

Borrowed a couple tools I needed and will boldly dig into the next scary unknown bit. It's not that big a deal but it's once again new territory for me. I read about it, asked people in the know and watched some videos, not much left but to just do it. (I'm a big fan of due diligence on just about everything.)

Worried that when changing the bars I may have grounded out the kill switch wire. That'd make sense if the ignition cover didn't have so much water in it. At least I have the most likely parts needing to be replaced and all but a couple tools. A little intimidated by the timing adjustment as well since it requires pulling apart yet another chunk of the engine but I guess it has to be done...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Modern Stone Age

I love "slag" glass! I think that might be a regional term for it but people who are into it usually know what you're talking about if you say it. It's those, often large, hunks of glass that people use to decorate their yards and fish tanks. It's beautiful looking stuff but there are other uses too.

As an undergrad I studied archeology at Indiana University where our program involved a fair bit of experimental work. If you are looking for stone tools and "debitage", aka leftover stone bits, you may greatly benefit from knowing how those thngs are made and what a fresh tool making site looks like.

At some point I questioned the wisdom of making these experimental tools from stone as you run the risk of creating spoof arechology sites and really mucking things up down the road. One sollution was to toss modern coins or bottle caps in with your leavings so that anyone digging them up down the road would know it wasn't a native site. My personal solution was to use colored glass instead of stone.

You get some way cool looking tools and there's no way to mistake your stuff for anything but what it is. The glass a great material to work with and it's fairly close to obsidian which is just about the best natural material you can get.

I'm looking for a grant to do more of this work for a mixed archeology and fine art project to demonstrate another way fine art and science can cross boundaries. The large point pictured(in progress) is made from quartz glass. This type of glass is used to make things like binocular lenses and space shuttle windows. I really want a chunk of shuttle window to make "primitive" tools with! So if anyone knows where I can get one let me know!!

Also, if anyone is willing to give me a primer in grant writing I'd be more than appreciative!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Adventures In Motorcycle Mechanics: Wet Points

After figuring out that the ignition cover gasket had failed on the DT I decided I'd fab up a new gasket rather than just buy one. The bike is already about 35 years old and parts are getting harder to find as time goes by. Most things can be had on eBay, especially if you get an exploded view parts list so you know what to call the parts. In the case of things like this simple gasket I feel like it's wise to explore making your own. There are several reasons for this.

For one you get them as fast as you can make them. No scrounging or waiting for parts to arrive in the mail and no worrying if you ordered the right one. If it doesn't fit you alter it. If you see an area for improvement you can do that. So, for me the added effort of plotting a pattern and cutting one ends up being better than buying one. Another good reason to make as many parts as you can is that you can effect repairs anywhere you might find yourself breaking down. In the case of this gasket I did save money but only a dollar or two. If I end up using the remaining gasket material I'll increase the savings. Even a one more repair would better than double the value.

In the case of this gasket the bike failed in my own back yard. No big deal but had it failed out on the road things might have been different. For future reference, I now know what to do if this ever happens again no matter where I am even if I can't get the "parts". To be sure there are many things you simply won't be able to make yourself but the more you can the better off you'll be. Not to mention that in the coming years as fewer and fewer mechanics are willing to work on this bike and the parts become even more scarce this is one less thing I have to fret about. This gasket is more symbolic in that effort anyway. It's just a weather seal and while the failure of the last one killed the bike it's not all that big a deal.

I've also made a simple trace of the original that I'll label and tuck away in my repair manual. You can bet I'll be keeping a piece of gasket material in my tool kit from now on. Incidentally the leftover disc from the center of the ignition cover is big enough to make all of the gaskets for a carb rebuild!

We'll see if it was a successful cleanup later when I install the new battery and try to kick it over. The points looked good and now they're dry and protected.

(I did consider Permatex for this job but I wanted something cleaner and I want to be able to easily pull the cover again if I didn't get things dry enough the first time. Or worse, if I need to replace the points, condensor or magneto.)

Plenty of great ideas came from this repair. It's times like this when I wish I had more resources to venture into start up territory. There's more than one opportunity here.