Many years ago when I was a young teenager I read the book Cheaper By The Dozen, by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Elaine Gilbreth Carey, which was published in 1948. It is a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in a family with a dozen children. I laughed and laughed. The father of the family was an efficiency expert. He would time the children as they brushed their teeth, at the same time playing foreign-language lessons on the record player so that they would simultaneously improve their teeth and their French.
Since then, I’ve always played a game with myself where, if I have to do a process more than once, I try to find ways to make it more efficient. For example, I’ve got the process of making a pot of coffee down to an art.
A container I use for water is stored in a drawer along with a canister of coffee beans and the coffee filters. I open the drawer, remove the water container with my right hand, the beans and one filter with my left. As I’m setting the beans on the counter, I put the water container underneath the drinking water spout and turn it on. As it fills, I measure two scoops of beans into the grinder and turn it on, then put the filter in the filter container on top of the coffee carafe. At that point, the water has filled to exactly the right level, so I turn off the faucet and pour the water into the reservoir. Precisely then, the grinder stops– but it hasn’t finished all the beans, so I press the button again, and while it finishes I put the whole beans and the water container back in the drawer. The put the ground beans into the filter, put the carafe into the coffeemaker, and turn it on. This all takes less than a minute.
Sometimes I get absentminded and put whole beans into the filter. Sometimes a cat distracts me and I forget to pour the water into the reservoir. Sometimes I put the carafe in but forget to put the ground coffee into the filter. But most of the time it works perfectly. When Brian makes the coffee I have to refrain from coaching. I’ve never actually told him about my achievements in the coffee making olympics!
So when it comes to dyeing 231 skeins of wool, I have had great fun developing and improving my process. I can wind and put 3 figure-8 ties on 3 46-yard skeins in one minute and thirty-four seconds. I can weigh skeins, record the weight, and make bracelets quicker than I ever imagined.
What once seemed like it took forever now seems just like making a pot of coffee. 28 pots– 2-1/3 dozen– at a time.
I put out 2 sets of 14 jars each, which have been numbered in Sharpie and always set out in the same order. I have two electric canners and two enamel canners, and each of them can hold 7 quart jars.
I add a bit of water to each, then add their sooper sekret ingredients (acid and sodium acetate). Then, referring to my ledger, I measure out to each one its allotment of golden yellow.
I score big points if I measure the exact amount on the first try, which is with a rather crudely measuring disposable pipette. If I get close but would go over with another drop (all these measurements are between 0.512 and 9.9g or ml), I use a more precise glass eyedropper. And if that isn’t exact enough, I go to the 0.5 – 10 microliter pipette. I always warn the eyedropper, “don’t make me go to the pipette!”. I can’t always get precisely to the microgram, but I make sure I’m within .004g. I love the metric system, where grams equate to milliliters and it’s so easy to switch between weight and volume.
Gisela was a quick study when it came to puppy potty training, so we have lots of leftover puppy pads that I am using instead of paper towels to protect the counter, though it’s very resilient and easy to clean.
After all of the yellow is in, then it’s on to the turquoise and then the magenta.
I add enough water to each jar that it’s about 3/4 full, then give each one its personal pre-soaked skein, which has been labeled with its skein number, its weight, its jar number and its formula.
One set of 14 skeins has a dash prepended to the jar number, so that later, when the skeins are dyed and rinsed I can easily distinguish one set from the other and keep them in order. One set of jars is wide-mouthed, and the other is regular-mouthed, so there is no chance of getting 2 of the same number in a set.
I am sure that as time goes on I’ll find even better ways to finesse the process. It’s all part of the fun!
Gisela provides companionship every step of the way, often lying on the floor at my feet, ready to leap upon any would-be assailant and always willing to move out of my way when necessary.
Beowulf, on the other hand, simply checks up on us once in a while, especially when he hears the camera and senses there is a photo opportunity. He is a born poser.
But it’s Katie, often known as “the third poodle” who is most apt to interrupt efficiency in order to “help”. I tried putting one of my rug samples inside the antique roaster known as “Mrs. Westinghouse” to see if she or any of the other cats would just settle in and nap there, but they aren’t having any of it.