Dear Ed

Dear Ed,
You would have turned 71 today, man. 
As for me, welp.  I’m 44. Where were you when you were 44? That seems like the sort of thing you’d tell me if I called you on your birthday. Well, damn, I was 17. So we were living in Tsukuba then, where we were when you got that middle of the night call about your father’s stroke. Who was on the other end? I never knew. I remember waking up though, when the phone rang, but you were there before me. I remember sitting with you while you cried, halfway around the world and 14 hours in the future from your dad while he lay in some hospital. “My poor dad,” you choked out.  I felt the same. My poor dad. 
But that year you were 44, well, I guess I got to thinking about you less and less. I was restless and angry and frustrated and wanting to be the boss of my own destiny, not trapped in boring-ass Japan with my boring damn family and the only relief from the boredom was a day of ikebana and o-cha once per week. Science city my ass, I hate this gaijin ghetto, I remember yelling when I wasn’t sullen and resentful. I could be at home making $3.75 an hour. I could have shit to do. No, I don’t like the other gaijin kid. I am so sick of being member number three of the fabulous flying Franquemonts, here, stay watching the luggage while Chris and Molly go to the bathroom for the umpteenth time and Ed goes to scout what there is for airport food, bla bla bla, I’m over it. 
When you were the age I am now, so much changed. You had playgrounds to build and Chris had that gaijin researcher gig. I went off to college. Molly stayed with Chris in Japan and you were back and forth. Sometimes I’ve tried to explain how it worked, that I moved out of my parents’ house by leaving Japan and rebelliously living… In my parents’ house in Ithaca. It’s a Franquemont thing. They wouldn’t understand. And it that don’t sound 1989 as fuck, I don’t know what does. 
Well anyway, so I have also arrived at that far future time in a person’s life when their firstborn is all grown up. Goddamn, I wish you could see him. I wish you could hear him. I wish that just once, just once, you could hear him at the jazz trombone.  I wouldn’t even ask for the time for him to get to have long talks with you about music. Just for one time where you got to go hear him and then he got to see how much you loved it and how proud you were. 
Hey listen man, I can’t make this a long letter, even though I want to and there’s so much to say. So fucking much. The years keep piling on and actually I’m glad they do but… Yeah I really can’t do it, I mean like physically. I’m gonna be fine and all, but I will tell ya, for a bit there I was afraid I was gonna be really precocious again in yet another way I never asked for. Anyway, while I’m writing this I keep crying, and then I have to blow my nose, and that hurts like a sonofabitch right now because a week ago I was the one laying in a bed in a surgical oncology inpatient unit. I don’t have cancer, but man, I just survived some science fiction shit. I would now make a much more interesting mummy. I hope the future archaeologists don’t think I got rid of an ovary and some other bits in a gendered stage of life rite of passage.

 I’ll do what I can to contribute facts to the primary sources the future will need. I’m still concerned about the longevity of humanity’s digital record, though. Also I think literacy is going to become an esoteric fringe skill in my kid’s lifetime. And I wish you could have seen the Internet slap fights over whether it’s more progressive if the first black president gets replaced by a woman or a Jewish dude. And yeah, really, Trump and a couple of dudes with Latino last names who even argued about which one of ’em didn’t even speak Spanish, and they’re republicans. 
See? I can not dwell. I can mostly just not freak out when shit gets heavy. You can still count on me to actually watch the whole family’s supplies for a year of living in the field, I swear, and now I’m old enough I think it’s funny how much I resented that all those years ago when you were my age. One thing hard about all this is now I’m down to just 15 more times I can say “when you were my age.”  I can’t fucking believe it’s 12 years since the last birthday you ever had. I’m glad you were out of the hospital that day, and long enough that we got to go have an ice cream sundae. 
Saw a news story last night about a trial cancer treatment breakthrough something something 94% got legit better using their own immune system to fight blood cancer type something and I kinda broke. Not broke down. Just couldn’t hear it. Couldn’t parse it. Sometimes I get so mad about how close in time you were to probably having lots more time. I know that’s one reason why you told me, while you lay dying, not to let anger win. And you’re right. Also, man, you should see the scar I’m gonna have from these staples. This summer I’m totally gonna wear something midriff baring and show it off, because it’s gonna be damned impressive. And yes, I promise I’ll stay on top of all my checkups. 
I usually find you a song for your birthday, usually a version of Farther Along. But this year I think I’ll just say hey, these guys were amazing in concert. If I lived in Ithaca I’d have seen them at the State Theater. 


Also I wrote this while post on a touchscreen tablet. Everybody has them now. You would have loved and hated the, just like I do. 
Man, I miss you. And I wish you could have seen this. It was in 2010. And now everybody calls him Ed, by the way. You’d probably know him on first sight even though you haven’t seen him since he was in kindergarten. 
I love you, Ed. I miss you all the time. And yeah. Still double on your birthday. 

  

Two Years

Dear Chris,

Well, it’s been two years now. I guess on the bright side, when I woke up, it wasn’t the morning of the first snow. Maybe that’s not the bright side, because the first snow will probably make me cry just like this anniversary of your death does.

Chris and Abby, 1972

Chris and Abby, 1972

Chris and Abby, summer 1973

Chris and Abby, summer 1973

You taught me to swim there, and you know there’s nobody for generations in your family who doesn’t know exactly where this photo was taken. There are so many things I meant to ask you about that place. I thought there’d be more time. Why couldn’t there have been more time? Lots of people get more time with their moms. Yeah, I know, there are also people who don’t get as much. None of that is the point, though. It’s like when Ed was dying, and he said it wasn’t as tragic as if it was happening to a young mom with little kids, and I told him he was wrong, because whoever that person might be, and however sad that story might be, it wasn’t about my father. I don’t think he’d thought about it that way. But you had. He saw what I meant, but you already knew.

I want to have a tantrum, like a toddler, like a teenager. It’s not fair. I hate you being dead. Nothing I can say about it is really any more than that. I can say it lots of ways, with lots of words, but they all just mean the same thing.

Chris, Molly, and Ed, 1975

Chris, Molly, and Ed, 1975

I hate that you’re all gone. It’s all too soon. It’s all too sad. It’s all too hard. It makes me cry. I hate crying. You know that. Everybody knows that. So let’s just have a song instead and we can pretend it’s the song we’re crying about.

I know there are so many tragedies so much vaster, and that I am no orphaned baby daughter, but rather, a full-grown woman who oughta be bringing in the crops before they are left standing, rotted, in November. But man, that sure is a wide, muddy river, and if you were still here, we could talk for hours about rivers of tears in cross-cultural symbolism.

I miss you, Chris. Thank you for my life. For everything.

Love always,

Abigail May

How To Make Yarn With A Pencil

Have you been waiting to start learning to spin until you decide what kind of tool or equipment you want? Wait no longer! Now you can make yarn using just a pencil!

Or, you know, any kind of stick, really. Plus, it’s not really “now you can,” because people have been making yarn for at least 34,000 years, so it isn’t really news. I just thought that line sounded cute.

Mother’s Day

I’ve been seeing a thing going around lately that says: Happy Mother’s Day, including to dads who are playing the role. I get that the intent for folks who are sharing that is to be inclusive to all parents in a primary child-raising role, and I love that sentiment, but I have to say: this makes me sad for lots of reasons. The biggest is: so now we’re telling fathers that the only way they can interact parentally with their children is by “playing the role” of mother? That if they are nurturing or caring or take care of the household, now they’re mothers? By the way, what does this make mothers who work outside the home? I could go on and on, but frankly, it still shocks me how far we seem to have regressed in terms of perceived gender role stuff, just in my lifetime.

I’d like to give a shout out to my own mother. She never really went in for Mother’s Day. The year when I was 8, I decided I would make her breakfast in bed, and made sure I was up before either of my parents to do it myself. I was off to a pretty decent start, standing on a chair so I could easily reach the electric frying pan on the counter. Except… there I was cooking bacon when I must have bumped it or something because one of its feet was off the counter and it started to tip and fall. I caught it, and put it firmly back on the counter… then screamed, because in so doing, I burnt the heck out of my hand. My parents came running and ruined everything. They RUINED it! I was making Mother’s Day breakfast because I was going to do it, me, by myself, and then I make one little mistake and yell and they wouldn’t even let me finish. It was actually quite the little scene. And after that my mom always tried to make clear she didn’t wanna do anything for some Hallmark Holiday anyway.

My mom felt guilty. I could, I swear, *feel* it. At the time I thought that was stupid. But after I became a mom, I understood new things, viscerally. Like that she didn’t feel guilty that I burned my hand trying to cook bacon for her, she felt accountable and responsible for everything that ever happened to me or that I ever did. And then she spent the rest of her life dancing with that: stepping in, stepping out, turning her back, going around the outside, laughing and smiling more than anything else, until I finally broke free and ran off to be my own woman without her there to run cold water on my hand if I burned myself. And that morning, she could see that coming, and know she could never have stopped me from ever getting burnt, and all those things you think when your kid is hurt. And then there she was, feeling all of that, and I’m arguing with her that she should stop trying to run my hand under the cold water so I could finish breakfast, and she’s staying calm forcibly holding my blistered hand under cold running water and my dad says “Enough about the bacon! It’s fine.” I didn’t understand my mom as much before I was one. I couldn’t empathize with her. I didn’t get it. And I’m sorry. But I know she knew: I truly couldn’t have understood then.

After I became a mother, I would call my mother every year on this day, and apologize for something, like right now, when I’m apologizing for ever having thought, in my childhood and my teens, that she just wanted to control my life and ruin everything. I know she didn’t. She did the most amazing job ever of helping her daughter grow into the woman I am. I am ever in awe. There’s no sufficient gratitude.

There’s also no replacement, and sometimes, no solace for that.

I miss you, Chris. And thank you for all the times you said things to me just like what I said in the first paragraph. Thanks for always making me think. Thanks for encouraging me to just say things. Thanks for teaching me to argue, even if you might have wished I did it less. And thanks for teaching me my life didn’t have to be ruled by anyone else’s notions of what girls or boys, mothers or fathers, men or women, are supposed to do. The least I can do for you (on a day you never set much stock in) is to keep putting those questions out into the world.

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Dear Molly

Dear Molly,

40 years ago today, I was over at our great-grandmother’s house, and she had a few friends over sitting on the couch. I got to watch TV, and Planet of the Apes was on. You always hated when I told you that was something I remembered so vividly about the day, so, you know, as a big sister, I gotta make sure I don’t miss it in this letter.

Chris Franquemont (holding Molly) and Ed Franquemont, 1975

Chris Franquemont (holding Molly) and Ed Franquemont, 1975

The phone call came in the early afternoon; the little brother I’d been anticipating was a little girl who weighed 5 and a half pounds. “I wonder what her name is?” everyone started wondering, because clearly it wouldn’t be Little Raoul, which is what you’d been called when you were a bump in my mother’s belly. Everyone sitting around thought Grace sounded like the perfect name.

Ed came and got me, and told everyone your name was Molly Anne, and then he and I went to the hospital to see you. We had chocolate chip banana bread that Barbara had baked, wrapped in tinfoil, and when we got to the hospital, our mother came out and sat with us, but not you. “I don’t have a knife,” my father said, unwrapping the tinfoil package. He broke off pieces of chocolate chip banana bread for everyone. Mine was from the end, which I liked, but it was also shaped like a broken foot, which I didn’t like. I was about to bring this up when my mother said, “Here she comes!” and helped me stand on a chair to look through the window behind us.

A lady dressed in white wheeled up a cart to the window, and smiled. And that was the first time I saw you. You were tiny, and red, with fuzzy red hair, and you were crying. I felt bad about being upset about my weirdly-shaped banana bread. I thought maybe you would like a piece and might not cry anymore if you had some, but you were on the other side of a window, and even then, inside a cart. “She’s very small,” our mother said, “so she has to be in the incubator for a while.”

Abby and Molly, 1975

Abby and Molly, 1975

I was so proud of my new baby sister. It made me mad that you couldn’t come home and play right away. I just wanted you and me to get on with the lives I’d daydreamed for us as your much wiser, more mature, and more experienced sister (that’s right, I was three years old, and I knew STUFF).

Tracey Cain and Molly Franquemont, 1978

Tracey Cain and Molly Franquemont, 1978

Having a little sister was never like I expected it to be. Being a big sister wasn’t either. And you upstaged me at every turn. You were cuter, more charming, had better people skills. I’d make a friend who’d come over to visit me, and then they’d spend the whole visit playing with you and I’d have to give up and go read a book. I didn’t know, until later, that you always thought much the same, and struggled with things like that English teacher wondering why you didn’t want to read Kafka in seventh grade like your big sister. You always looked good in dresses, and in pictures, and I never did. But you always thought everyone could see how many times your nose had been broken and envied me for not being accident-prone.

Molly, in 1979, enjoying having her hair styled by Grandma Claudia

Molly, in 1979, enjoying having her hair styled by Grandma Claudia

1983, Riobamba Ecuador, where even Molly's school uniform cardigan managed to always look fancier than mine

1983, Riobamba Ecuador, where even Molly’s school uniform cardigan managed to always look fancier than mine

Molly and Abby, 1986

Molly and Abby, 1986

Molly, 1990, Tsukuba-shi, Ibaraki-ken,  Japan

Molly, 1990, Tsukuba-shi, Ibaraki-ken, Japan

Molly, 1992, Ithaca High School Lacrosse

Molly, 1992, Ithaca High School Lacrosse

Molly, 1993, with her painting of Grandma Claudia

Molly, 1993, with her painting of Grandma Claudia

Mama Molly and her daughter Quilla, Christmas 1996

Mama Molly and her daughter Quilla, Christmas 1996

I wish we knew where you were, today, when you should be having a party for your fortieth birthday. Forty years is no shit. I’m your big sister, so I know, because I got there first. Or, well, I guess maybe “at all.” It’s been more than 2 years since you disappeared, and with everything that went down, maybe I should be trying to just use phrases like “my sister was” more often. But it’s hard, because… somehow I can’t help thinking it’s all a mistake and I can’t possibly not have a baby sister anymore. Deep down I know you’re gone, because you would have moved heaven and earth to be here with the rest of us these past 2 years. But I can’t close the door on the idea that maybe, just maybe… well, I don’t know what to hope, sometimes, you know? I don’t hope you’re trapped in someone’s basement dungeon, but I also don’t hope you’re dead and never to be found, so maybe the basement dungeon would be better. Maybe I should hope you have amnesia and are having a wonderful time somewhere. But that sounds weird too. I guess I hope you’re at peace, and I wish you were here, and I wish I thought we’ll ever find out.

I miss you. I’m thinking of you a lot lately. Sometimes it sucks being the last one left here. Heck, mostly it does. I know I used to bitch constantly about how I just wanted you to go away and leave me alone, but I never meant it like this. I just wish so much that I could call you up and say happy birthday. I wish you were still around to piss me off, because that’s definitely a little sister’s job and I kinda got used to it after all.

Lots of us miss you.

molly0008

Be well, whereever and however you may be. You are not forgotten. Especially not on your birthday.

Love,

Abby

Jensen Tall Castle ISO New Home!

Dear Internet,

Hi! I’m a double treadle 24″ Jensen “Space Saver” tall castle wheel with finials (sometimes called half-spokes). I was lovingly made by Jerry Jensen in 2001, from cherry wood with a walnut stain. I’m signed and numbered — JMJ No 5, 10/24/2001.

jensen01

My specs:

24″ drive wheel Space Saver,24″ x 16″ x 52″, orifice 25″ from floor, double drive and scotch tension, double treadle, ratios 9:1, 10:1, 11:1, 12:1, 14:1. I come with 2 bobbins, and can run double drive, Scotch tension, or Irish tension.

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If you were looking for me new, I’d run $1750 and the wait would be 6-12 months from the date of order.

jensen02

I have spent my life living with, and being maintained by, professional spinning teachers!

jensen03

I can be yours for $1400 plus actual shipping via UPS (or you can pick me up in Lebanon, Ohio). Interested? Just email abby@abbysyarns.com.

Should I Buy This Used Spinning Wheel? (video)

Thinking about buying a used spinning wheel? Doing so can be a great way to save money, but alas, it isn’t always easy to find a used wheel in good condition. If the seller is a spinner, then your odds are pretty good, but sadly, people who don’t spin can’t necessarily even tell if something actually is a spinning wheel or not. So, if you’re looking for your first wheel, my usual recommendation is to not buy a used wheel from someone who isn’t a spinner.

Okay… but what if you really, really want to? That’s where today’s video comes into play. I’ll show you my family’s old great wheel, an antique flax wheel with some issues that aren’t dealbreakers, and a modern wheel in good condition.

“This Is Not Your Grandma’s Knitting”

It’s coming around again, as it has probably for time immemorial — the thing where someone who doesn’t knit discovers that there are people who do knit, and some of them are apparently under the age of 90, and then the next thing we know, someone is writing articles or spouting this line on TV or social media or something:

“This is not your grandmother’s knitting.”

Every time someone says this, picture the knitters of the developed world all crying out in unison as they slam their heads into their keyboards, tablets, smartphones, countertops covered in a newspaper, airplane tray tables beneath a magazine… you get the picture. Seriously. Just imagine us all casting our eyes upwards and beseeching the heavens for some sort of answer as to why THIS of all things is the line we’re saddled with hearing from the news media and our non-yarnish friends.

So I just thought I’d take a moment to say this:

Actually, this IS my grandmother’s knitting.

And these are some of her knitting needles. My uncle was kind enough to give them to me right away when my grandmother passed on last year.

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My grandmother Rachel was a painter, potter, weaver, spinner, dyer, knitter, crocheter, sewer, embroiderer, cook, and countless other things. I cannot remember a time before she put yarn and yarn activities in my hands, and there was never a time growing up when I didn’t have plenty of clothes she made for me, in lots of ways. I have many of them to this day, and certainly, lots of household textiles that she made.

My grandmother was also a woman who spent most of her elder years living in Montana, part of the time fairly rurally. Letters from her often started with lines like “Today I saw a mountain lion and her cub out the kitchen window…” or “While I was gathering clay from the banks of the stream out in back of the house…” or “I had a few weaver friends over today, and we’ll spending next weekend at the mall demonstrating spinning and weaving! I hope we get to teach lots of new people!”

Right now, I’m also looking at what my mother told me had been my grandmother’s “summer house loom” — the small loom she kept for weaving with when spending summers on a remote island in the Great Lakes. She gave the loom to her new son-in-law, my father, in 1970, when he became interested in learning to weave. I should probably note the “small loom” is a floor loom with a 36″ weaving width.

Oh and by the way… the folded up pieces of paper in that photo? Among them are receipts for the interchangeable needle set and add-on parts ordered, and for $70 of yarn in 1983, with a note in her handwriting that says “Family heirloom.”

My grandmother and my mother, in my grandma's yard, wearing handknit hats

My grandmother and my mother, in my grandma’s yard, wearing handknit hats

So yeah. I’m pretty sure that what I do today IS my grandma’s knitting. In lots of ways, in fact. And of course, it’s also my mother’s knitting.

Chris

Lots of things may not be obvious in this photo of my mother holding a 16th century icon, but the only stuff I really want to point out is that my mother sewed that dress (and had me practice embroidery on part of it), and she spun the yarn for the cabled sweater draped around her neck, which of course she knit. So yeah, it looks like this is also my mother’s knitting.

And actually, it’s my father’s knitting, too. It’s too sad for me to take a picture, but I have a small bag that I sometimes open and look at, and think about the contents. It was the bag in which he carried around his last knitting project, which he didn’t finish. They were gloves he was making for me when he succumbed to the cancer that killed him — colorwork gloves with a reinterpretation of one of my favourite Chinchero weaving patterns.

You know what else? It’s lots of people’s knitting all over the world. They look all kinds of ways and might be anybody. Like these gentlemen knitting while watching a presentation at the 2010 Tinkuy de Tejedores in Urubamba, Peru:

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It’s also my great-grandmother’s knitting, by the way, as I was reminded when that same uncle passed on to me a pair of socks that were knit for him by my great-grandmother in the 1960s. And you know, that brings me to the next major point of peevishness about this whole “not your grandma’s knitting” shtick:

WHAT THE HECK IS THE MATTER WITH YOUR GRANDMA ANYWAY?

Seriously, I know a lot of grandmas, and lots of ’em are really quite cool. Some of my best friends are grandmas. And just yesterday I was thinking about my great-grandmother, who died while my mother was pregnant with me. I never met her, but I grew up on stories about her, and the ever-diminishing number of my relatives who did know her never seem to run out of those stories.

May Preston Jenkins, President, Women's Suffrage League

May Preston Jenkins, President, Women’s Suffrage League, 100 years ago

College educated, the eldest of 9 kids, a cigar-smoking, bloomer-wearing Suffragist, my great-grandmother is among the reasons I can do stuff today like “vote” and “own property and even a business in my own name,” things that she did AT THE SAME TIME AS SHE WAS KNITTING. Heck, you know what? My grandmother told me she remembered her mother taking her to see Red Sox games when she was a teenager… and both of them knitting on the T. That sure sounds like the knitting scene I know today.

So yeah. Not my grandma’s knitting? All I’ve got to say is, dude, you obviously know neither my grandma, nor her knitting. In fact, I’m willing to bet you don’t know anyone’s knitting, and the number one indicator that’s the case? It was when you said “this isn’t your grandma’s knitting.”

Next up, perhaps: I’m going to teach a yoga teacher to knit, so we can conclusively speak to the question of whether or not it’s “the new yoga.”

Half Hitch For Low Whorl Spindles (Video)

Years ago, I did a static-image blog post about how to use a half-hitch on a low whorl spindle. Thing is, I did it really quick, after finishing up a dye day, and I was never happy with it for a million reasons, not least among them that my fingertips were stained from dye.

What’s more, over the years, I’ve refined the way I demonstrate the technique — putting on half-hitches quickly using the spindle holding hand, which is advantageous for several reasons. First, it doesn’t matter how much yarn you have between your fiber hand and the spindle — you can maintain tension and put on half-hitches without risk of tangling, especially once combined with being able to wind your yarn up in a butterfly as you spin. Second, it doesn’t take much practice to get very fast with this, partly because you don’t need to look at what you’re doing. Third, well, you don’t need to watch what you’re doing, so that makes it pretty foolproof.

So, with all of those things in mind, I chose to make a video about half-hitches the start of a series of new short technique videos I’ll be posting much more frequently. Without further preamble, then, here it is! I’d love to hear thoughts about videos you’d like to see, by the way — feel free to share them.