Coming Soon…

So, what am I the furthest behind on for January? Sock batts, which I’m actually behind on since December. I blame the whole Tooth Saga, which I am not going to get into in detail for fear of causing other dentistophobes to squick to death.

Here’s a little bit of what will be coming up for sale shortly…


By my own hard deadline, these are due up 1 Feb… but it might end up being 2 Feb at the rate I seem to be going this week. All the latest batch of sock blends are a superwash wool base, containing generous amounts of silk, some with mohair and/or romney as well. Some, but not all, also contain firestar or angelina nylon.

At least half of them, I secretly don’t want to let out of the workshop, unless it’s to pile them by my own spinning wheel.

So How Full Is Full?

Well, I think I’ve about reached the point of stupidity in trying to cram any more yarn onto a Bosworth featherweight spindle. This has been an exercise I decided to get into primarily because I feel like I can get more yarn on a comparable low whorl spindle than a top whorl — but if I really pushed hard, what could I do?

I’m not entirely positive that I can’t come up with a cop-winding method that allows for more. But so far, here’s my personal best:

Fairly full spindle

The mechanics of the cop are the hard part; too far down the shaft, and you don’t have enough leverage to start the spindle with a roll, or if you roll too hard you loosen part of the cop; too triangular, then you’ve lost a lot of real estate that makes it so you can’t secure the yarn in the notch on the way to the hook. But the cop needs to be roughly bell-shaped or else it’s not stable and doesn’t spin well.

Anyway, this is a 12 gram spindle… holding 60 grams of spun yarn. That’s over 2 ounces, and 5 times its unladen weight. This was not too much weight; spin properties were fine. The cop just won’t stay happy anymore and it’s a little hard to get a good spin on the thing with only a little over an inch of shaft exposed.

I even pulled half of it off and stored it on my fingers and rewound it, last night; minimal returns from that, maybe another 8g of fiber.

The fiber in question is commercial merino top; it’ll be interesting to see what the low whorl does for capacity.

So next, for science, I’ll take a similar-sized low whorl spindle, and repeat with the same fiber.

Drop Spindle Basics Video

Here’s an 8-minute video showing the very basics of drop spindle spinning, using a low whorl spindle made from hardware store materials (a dowel and a drawer pull) and some midgrade commercial wool fiber. Multiple angles, closer view of hand actions, hopefully functional descriptions of the process! This is aimed at helping out anybody who just has never seen this done at all, or anybody who wants to see how it could work with very inexpensive materials. Numerous of the techniques are Peruvian; everything is moving slow so as to be as visible as possible.

And for those of you who have asked if I ever do it, I’ve demonstrated dropping a spindle. 😉

Waylaka

Sometimes when writing something down for new fiber artists, I find myself saying “I don’t really remember being a newbie, you’ll need to ask some questions here.” And sometimes I say, “The way I learned things isn’t one which translates well to American teaching situations.” These things are true, but they don’t tell the whole story. I don’t remember being a newbie the way that people are newbies now; I was a child, and that’s different from being an adult newbie, and expectations were different as well. What’s more, I learned many things in a context where praise is very rarely given, and is understated when it is; and where praising newbie efforts the way that we tend to in the US would be seen as insulting.

When I first learned to spin for real, I was five years old and we’d just moved to Chinchero, Peru. Overall, in retrospect, I realize that the community that claimed my family looked at the four of us — my parents, 5-year-old me, my sister not yet 2 — and reacted with shock at our inability to perform basic tasks. Well, to be fair, my mother was clearly useful and could do the things she needed to and only needed occasional orientation to specific tools or tasks, and my sister was a toddler and not yet old enough to be useful. My father and I both clearly needed to be put to work, however. Next thing I knew I’d been assigned to going out pasturing sheep with Sabina, a girl a few years older than me who lived down the street, and I’d had a spindle and some wool put in my hands and it was up to the more experienced girl to teach me that and the rudiments of weaving.

I hated spinning, but weaving was great. What’s more, you could sell your weaving and make some money — tourists would buy it. Also, it was fun. Weaving was just cool. Spinning, bleah! All the other girls around my age could do it and they made it look easy, but it just didn’t work out that way for me.

My first jakima (narrow strip) was all khata (plain weave) the first time I wove it. My selvedges were terrible, I twisted it by not tracking where my weft was, and it looked like a tangled mess in comparison to what the other girls could do. Older girls patiently undid it for me so I could try again and get it right this time. “They’ll call you waylaka for that,” they’d explain. “What’s that?” I asked. It was clear it was bad. In time, as the language barrier vanished, I came to understand that a waylaka was a fake woman. As I write this, googling around finds the Spanish definition “Mujer desalmada, perezosa.” This translates into English as “A woman who is heartless and soulless, lazy and idle.” But there are nuances of connotation that can’t be described so easily. For a woman to be a waylaka was about as horrible a fate as could be pictured; it was among the harshest criticisms that could be leveled against a grown woman, and the threat of growing up to be a waylaka, because as a girl you gave way to waylaka urges, was constant.

Benita across the street, my godfather’s mother, was among the most traditional people in the most traditional ayllu (community) in town. She was determined to see that I would not be a waylaka. In short order, the entire ayllu of Cuper was in on the mission to see to it that the little tow-headed sunburnt girl was not going to be a waylaka. I ran wild all over town — but the whole town had its eye on me and I was hard to miss: the only blonde, the first Gringo kid anyone had seen, and the one who’d get into strange situations by virtue of having missed key lessons of early childhood being born in the United States and all.

Suffice it to say that my first finished piece of weaving was actually woven and re-woven countless times; enough times, over a long enough time span, that by the time it was done, I was conversant in Spanish and Quechua alike (although, since I was 5, I think that was only a few months). Each time I would finish the piece, I’d show it to an older girl or a grown woman, and she’d point out where I had been a waylaka about it, and undo it at least to that point so I could do it right. The same thing happened with my hair; one day I braided my hair for myself, and I was super proud. I ran straight up to the first old lady I saw, and said, “Look! Look! I braided my own hair! Didn’t I do a good job?”

“No,” she replied. “You did a waylaka job. Here, this is how it should be. Do it like this from now on,” and she undid my braids, rebraiding them so tight they’d hold for a week, in about 2 minutes flat — no small feat when you figure she was dealing with a tenderheaded tantrum beast when it came to hair.

This wasn’t criticism per se — this was caring, and ownership and community. It was how the ayllu of Cuper made sure it didn’t raise waylakas. If you cared about someone, you wouldn’t let that happen to her. What’s more, if that woman had told me that I had done a good job, when I had done a childish newbie job, that would have been a hurtful act. I knew — everyone knew — that I’d braided my hair poorly, that I had only just managed something which could be considered a braid. If she’d told me “You did good,” it would have carried with it the message that such work was all that could be expected of me; that I had no further potential; that I wasn’t worth wasting any time on teaching.

If she would have spent a long, long time rebraiding my hair, going slow, making me do it, that would have been condescending, and again, sent the message that I was of little value, due to my clearly sub-par learning skills. Doing it right, at close to normal speed, telling me what to feel for and think about, would give me more time to go off and practice without being a waylaka about it and making someone else drill it into me. The other girls and I could spend our time on that; the grown women were reserved for grownup things, not teaching rudiments. Suggesting that I needed a grown woman to teach me, painstakingly and at length, would have been to single me out from my peers to treat me like a problem.

A Chinchero weaver knows all her patterns, in every variation, in detail. She knows the progression of them, how they break down into smaller pieces and build up into bigger ones and what they relate to in the world at large, and why. She knows the philosophical premises, the world view, the unspoken aesthetics, that go along with them, and she can and she does argue those with her peers, her students, her teachers. She knows it all by heart, without having to think about it. Those intricate patterns? I can write them down, but I don’t need to. That would be a weakness for a waylaka to need. If I had to do that, then how would I ever be able to learn more things quickly? How would I be able to walk into a town where I’ve never been but one person does a kind of weaving I’ve never seen, and expect to tell her I was worth her time to teach? How would I expect to really learn the stuff during the scant hours I might be there with the only person to teach me? How would I expect to teach it to anyone who wasn’t there with me?

Even during the learning process, even in adulthood, even once you were pretty good at it, you could expect to face mockery. They used to talk behind my father’s back as he learned things, saying, “Hey, have you ever thought about what it would be like to have to use your toes to weave? Because come look, that’s what this is like watching!” I remember when I was sitting out weaving my first really big piece at age 13, and the other girls, the grown women, and the old ladies would all pass by, stop and watch for a bit, and then any one of them might say “Hey, you made a mistake,” and point it out. And if I’d look, and make the judgment call to leave it, the whole group would snigger and say, “Waylaka!” There are four such waylaka mistakes in that piece, and any Chinchero weaver can spot them a mile away. I can spot them in other people’s weaving — mostly because I have made every single one myself, and fixed it.

Well, anyway, that first project of mine was someone else’s handspun yarn. It was black and white and a little red yarn for the selvedges. It was probably 2 feet long and contained a grand total of 10 yards of yarn, including heddles. It wasn’t long enough to be used for anything but teaching a child her first weaving stuff. When it was finally deemed good enough, I sold it to a stranger for half a sol, which I spent on lemon hard candy. Sabina warped me a new jakima, longer this time, able to be used as a backstrap for me as I continued to learn to weave. She used her handspun yarn, and this time, it must have come to 12-13 yards total — some of which were the same short bits of yarn that had been used for the heddles on my first piece.

I still struggled with spinning. I had a spindle, and periodic resupply of wool, which I earned by picking and teasing fleece with the other girls. There are certain kinds of burr and vegetable matter that I can’t see anywhere, in any context, and not think about picking out of fleece. I had hundreds of experienced spinners and a peer group of less-experienced spinners, to work on it all with me. My mother, and even my father, could spin — not perhaps quite as effortlessly as the old women in town, but well and evenly. I could spin a few yards of decent yarn, and then I’d get too thin and it would break, and then I’d have to splice new wool on and it would be the same. It would take me forever to get slubs and neps out. By the time I was 6 and a half and we went back to the US for a while, I was able to spin a yarn that was only semi-waylaka; but I was embarrassingly slow. I was, at least, not too bad at picking a fleece and teasing it into a neat roving. Nothing that I had spun was remotely good enough to weave with; perhaps it might have been if I had been able to spin it in any quantity.

I couldn’t spin a good enough yarn to weave with, in sufficient quantity to warrant dyeing, until I was 8 years old. Before then, if I wanted yarn to weave with — and I did — I had to earn it from the grown women and older girls, who’d part with bits of their stashes in exchange for time spent picking a fleece or, later when I was better at it, plying yarn. But then around this time, it became easy to buy acrylic knitting yarn in fingering weight, which, if overplied, could be used for weaving, which you could sell to tourists for money, which you could use to buy more yarn (among other things). A lot of the girls my age turned to using this because of the time savings. I wove extensively with the stuff for several years, products for sale, saving the handspun for not-sale, since it was time spent on the spinning that wasted on the tourists who couldn’t tell the difference anyway, and usually paid for bright colours rather than anything else — they had no sense of the difficulty of one pattern vs. another, no sense of greater value for fine spinning, and there were more and more of them to sell stuff to. The old weavers of Chinchero frowned on this practice of using acrylic yarn, called the girls who did it waylaka, and pointedly stepped up their spinning. But to a yarn-hungry girl who could now acquire a yarn stash in a matter of months rather than years… well. I wasn’t the only one who fell prey to this; far from it. I certainly didn’t come up with the idea.

You see, the reason to spin was to get yarn; and you wanted yarn in order to weave. And you definitely wanted to be a good weaver, because if you were a good weaver and you did good work and a lot of it, you were definitely not a waylaka in at least one major area. No waylaka could commit to the decade or longer that it would take to really master weaving in a town where weaving was a paramount tradition. A Chinchero weaver might be a waylaka when it came to cooking or something but you’d never call her a total waylaka. Nobody from any town would.

By my teens, though decidedly a non-waylaka when it came to weaving, I was viewed as borderline when it came to spinning. Look at all the time I wasted, the old women would say, overplying that stupid lana (what they called the acrylic) when I could have been producing good khaitu (handspun wool weaving yarn). How did I think I would ever weave a poncho for my man when the time came, or my own llijlla? Did I really think I’d just be able to give somebody money for yarn for it, because surely, I wasn’t considering using anything but khaitu for it, was I? Anybody wearing a not-handspun llijlla (manta) or poncho was a walking advertisement for a waylaka. Someday, they said, I’d be sorry I wasn’t a decent enough spinner to really produce khaitu in sufficient quantity to support my weaving desires and eventual adult needs. “You have the skill to do it,” they’d tell me, “it only took you about eight years, but you have the skill to do it — it’s just you’re a waylaka about actually doing it.” Able, in other words, but too lazy.

But I was balancing all those old traditional Chinchero weaving things with being an American teenager, too. And as an American teenager in the 1980s, I knew full well nobody cared about stupid yarn, or weaving, or any of that other stuff they all just thought was dumb. Here I’d put most of my life into learning to be a Chinchero weaver, and like anybody cared. Except they would have cared if that was where I was, instead of in a college town in New York. Except the world was changing in Peru too and the indigenous rural cultures were going away, not that you could grudge anybody that when you also figured it meant electricity and plumbing and refrigeration and antibiotics and people having money to get those things. Might as well be a waylaka now, I sometimes thought, for all the difference it makes that I’m not one. And that went not just for weaving but for all sorts of things I didn’t need to know anymore, that almost nobody needed to know anymore, like the skills it took to live comfortably with no electricity, running water, and so forth. Too bad I’d spent my childhood becoming a non-waylaka, I thought in my teens, instead of learning to play rock guitar or something cool.

But even so, those visceral childhood things never disappear. My pile of unfinished objects as an adult? That exists as a testament to what a waylaka I truly am. Same goes for the unfinished laundry, the disorderly desk, the things I’ve done half-assed. Oh, some of these you can let slide, and no grown woman’ll ever be totally unfailing on all of ’em, but you spur yourself on to do things better by reminding yourself not to be soulless, heartless, lazy, idle; and when such things start to pile up, the hallmarks of the waylaka, they’re an assault on the sense of self-worth I learned as a little girl in a world that doesn’t really exist anymore. Finding a sense of inner balance about where it’s okay to be a little lazy, and where it isn’t, is a central quandary in many people’s lives; for me personally, a huge part of it is wrapped up in textiles.

As a producer of textiles, it took me rather a while to reach a point where I felt like it was okay to use non-handspun yarn; and quite a long time to be able to say, even to myself, “This commercial millspun yarn is spun to waylaka standards in the first place, but it’s actually good for knitting, and that’s okay! Yarn doesn’t have to all be good khaitu.” Viscerally I’m prone to judging yarn — all yarn — just as my early handspun yarn was judged: useful for weaving, or waylaka yarn? And to me, yarn is not a finished product, it’s a material. If it were cooking, I could equate it to being chicken stock — useful for so many reasons, in so many kinds of things; it took work to get it and it could be really, really good, but it’s not the finished product, because that’s the meal I’ll eat that was made with the chicken stock.

When I look at yarn, whether it’s my handspun or a commercial yarn, I think reflexively about what it’s good for: what could I do with it? I don’t always spin for a specific project, sometimes I just spin yarn in fairly generic ways that I’ll find a use for later, or yarn that I think it’ll be neat to spin, or else a fiber begs to be spun in one particular way or another. I spin to get yarn in order to have a stash of yarn that I can use for what I need (or want) to be working on. I need to be able to go to my stash with a need, and there find the material I require. Sometimes that material is a millspun product, sometimes even a very cheap mass-market millspun product. There are things on which I generally won’t squander my good yarn, which typically includes my handspun (because why would I spin yarn that wasn’t good yarn?)… but there are also times when nothing but good yarn will do, and times when even my good commercial yarn can’t measure up to my handspun yarn.

In the past week, I’ve done some things with my handspun yarn that would probably shock a lot of newer handspinners. Here’s a few:

  • Learning to use my autoknitter, numerous of the yarns I’d selected for practice purposes were proving annoying, prone to splitting and excess wear under tension as I figured things out, and not holding up well to being knit up by machine, ripped out, and knit again and again. Despite having originally figured on using cheap yarn to practice with, I found that either I was going to end up with a huge pile of totally wasted yarn that was knit up into nonfunctional tubes and socks with problems, surely a waylaka maneuver if there ever was one — or I was going to need to use a yarn I could count on to take a beating, and repair myself as I wished, in the course of getting to something I felt was worth keeping. Just as my first piece of weaving was unwoven time and again, I undo a lot of test stuff that I do to learn new things. The commercial yarn I had handy wasn’t doing it for me. So I dug out a stack of handspun, and finally got results I wanted, using that for practice yarn.
  • Gave my son a scrap of handspun to use for the mouth of a snowman
  • Made a “yarn prey” decoy for the cat, to distract him from a shelf of works-in-progress in which has of late had an inordinate interest
  • Used it as leader for a selection of new bobbins
  • Used it to replace a scotch tension brakeband
  • Cut an end after a relatively cursory weaving-in, and thrown away the 5-foot-long scrap instead of winding it up to use for waste yarn

I’ve been told by many Americans that I’m an exceptionally good spinner, astoundingly fast, able to do things many spinners simply can’t do and don’t dare aspire to doing. But the thing is I’m not really any of those things; I’m just not a total waylaka. I have the audacity to call myself a Chinchero weaver — and I have that because I know that I’ve got what it takes to walk into any Andean weaving community, and prove that in five minutes or less. I know I have that because it was tested against a lifetime of learning it the real way.

It is that lifetime which gives me the ability to do certain things with apparent ease. I am not a natural; I’m someone who was trained from early childhood in a tradition with exacting standards, by people with tremendous pride in their skill and high expectations for children and students. I can teach the things I know, but I can’t make someone know all the things that I know, quickly. I can write about them and a reader can understand them, but some of these things are things which hands must know, things where it’s not rational and quantifiable comprehension or checking against a reference material. And the way that I was taught to do many things requires a world which is fast disappearing and in which most of us no longer live.

Minor Productivity Report, mid-January

Oh, my poor poor productivity, such as it is this month! Last week it was ravaged by oral surgery, and today that continues as in about an hour I head out to have all my wisdom teeth removed. I’m afraid my family has also suffered, as I’ve been pretty cranky about stuff like my mouth stitches. They feel like when you have corn floss stuck in your teeth, only thicker, and they’re supposed to be there, and they’re in a wound. Sigh. But this should be pretty much the last of it all. Though I’ve got at least one filling and a cleanup of an old, old filling that I would like to have done before that tooth ends up needing a root canal and a crown. I think today’s wisdom teeth extractions will be the last thing I have done in January though. I’ve had enough; the weekly (or more) dentist trips have been going on since just after Thanksgiving. Of course, as my third world childhood reminds me every time I start going down the self-pity road, absent modern dental care I’d be missing 5 or 6 teeth by now.

While I’ve been relatively unproductive in terms of actual objects or yarn spun or new fibers put together, I have managed to get a fair amount of writing done, including a good number of drafts and outlines which I think can be very strong articles. For the second half of January, I need to focus on thinking about publication venues and query letters and that sort of thing. I don’t want to lose the momentum I’ve built up with respect to writing.

And I’ve added “make some videos” to the list, after digging up some old low-quality digital camera ones and throwing them on youtube, something I never had any intention of doing at all. You can find the full set of them here — more, higher quality videos will be coming in the near future, as I have invested in a digital camcorder. A sampling:

And those should clearly show why I invested in a digital camcorder.

I did finish the one 3-ply sock yarn designed for the autoknitter, also:

I really wish the sun would come out for photos of this one; it’s just… luminous. I’m delighted with how this yarn turned out, which is pretty much exactly how I planned for it to turn out, but I’m still very pleased about that! The yarn is composed of 2 plies which are spun from Ashland Bay 70/30 merino/tencel (lyocell) in “Desert,” and one ply spun from tussah silk seconds from my own dyepot. 5.25 ounces of merino, 2.25 ounces of tencel, and 2 ounces of silk comes out to being 55% merino, 24% tencel, and 21% tussah silk, in this 9.5 ounce skein of yarn. It’s three or four pairs of autoknitter socks, or 1225 yards; it would have been about 1240 but I just couldn’t get that last bit of 3-ply containing the last few yards of the silk, onto the bobbin; I pushed it and pushed it as it was, and not without consequence…

Several hundred yards had to be wound off, then wound back on. But lucky me, Chad pitched in, and I can get a Majacraft bobbin to stay on the tapered-shank bobbin winder that came with the Autoknitter. It could have been much worse.

One of the themes that seemed to crop up all week while I was reading lists and whatnot, is twist, and the premise of the balanced yarn. You can read one discussion about that here in the Livejournal community spinningfiber. And actually, this yarn, which I’ll call the Desert Sock Yarn, provided me with a great opportunity to take a few pictures to demonstrate my position about twist, which differs from a lot of what appears to be the conventional wisdom these days in that I go for higher-twist yarns than is typical now. So shortly, there’ll be another article here specifically dealing with twist, featuring this yarn, its specifications in detail, and so forth.

I did have some leftover merino/tencel when all was said and done — about a half-ounce split between two bobbins. So as to not leave bobbins tied up, naturally I plied these together into one fingering/laceweight yarn:


Shown, in case you can’t tell, unwashed and unweighted at top, and then in the bottom two photos, after washing, but unweighted. Consider it a pictorial quick summary of the upcoming twist article!

In other news, I was slow deciding I really needed more Victoria bobbins, and pretty much everyone seems to be out of them now, until March. But as so often seems to be the case, Susan had them. She’s great that way — odds are if you’re looking for it, you can find it at Susan’s Fiber Shop. I have been spinning a lot on the Victoria, even though it’s slower than I ideally like right now, because it’s also the easiest wheel to spin on while I’m sitting in my slothing chair, which is a rocking recliner with heat and massage. I’m not ashamed to admit that such considerations have been present during this month of dental woe.

I also decided that, no, I didn’t like the merino/merino-tencel yarn all that much. I mean, it’s pretty enough but the merino-tencel sheen is lost. So it’ll be a 3-ply merino sweater yarn, and I took the “clover” merino-tencel and used it for my example yarn for yet another upcoming article, a short pictorial demo on spinning cabled yarns. This one also provides me with fat yarn for a hat, as with dropping temperatures I’ve concluded that I need a new hat. Here’s one of the cable yarns, on the bobbin and unset…

Indeed, it is a fat yarn and a big needle project. I haven’t figured out what form the hat’ll take yet really, but this will be a nice cozy hat. And hopefully just in time (okay, a week or so late, given temperatures have been dropping).

Whoops, there were several more things I was going to say in this update before heading out for dental torture, but then I cleverly kicked the power button on my PC. And then I got a very cute cat picture on my phone… which caused the phone to reboot for some reason. On the bright side, I think this might just get a good bit of dumb mishap out of the way for the day, before the dentist, so that’s a good sign, I’m sure of it.

So, what’s coming up?

  • Cabled Yarn Tutorial
  • Sock Yarn Detail
  • Measuring Your Yarn ala Mabel Ross
  • Pontificating About Twist
  • Comments and Responses and Discourse, Oh My!
  • Yarn Tech: Plies
  • Works in Progress: an update
  • Spinning Videos

There should be lots of exciting new content here over the remainder of the week! Stay tuned!

Do You Spin Less Traditional Yarns?

Someone asked me the other day whether or not I ever spin non-traditional yarns.

Why yes, in fact, I do. But the thing is, I don’t use a lot of novelty yarn; it just doesn’t serve any real purpose for me. For the most part, I spin to produce yarn that I want to use. Sometimes I spin in order to master a technique or a new kind of fiber or something like that, but then I’m invariably left with yarn for which I have no use.

Usefulness is a key part of my aesthetic. I know — this gets into that tired old “art vs. craft” debate, a lot of which I tend to just find arbitrary and pointless. I admire both form and function, but most of all I love a marriage of the two. Achieving a successful blend of both is truly a masterful accomplishment; it is that which speaks to me, personally, more than either of the two separately. I don’t find myself drawn to most things which are created solely for form, nor most things created solely for function. I think if I did, then fiber arts wouldn’t be my passion, because a huge part of what makes fiber arts so scintillating is the unparalleled opportunity to blend form and function.

This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate things that push the boundaries or take risks. This isn’t to say I don’t do those things myself, or try to challenge my own thinking. I don’t mean I never do things, or like things, just because, or for reasons I can’t entirely put my finger on.

So, without further ado, a few random pictures of some yarns I’ve spun over the years that aren’t what I usually spin:


Mohair and Soy Silk thick-thin single


Adult Camel and Tussah Silk 2-ply


Merino, silk noil and nylon spiral yarn


Mohair/Silk Boucle


Suffolk/Mohair Snarl Yarn


Slubbed misc wools/silk noil single


Assorted thick-thin space-dyed singles for knit, crochet, felting


Angora/silk space-dyed mild spiral


Tussah/Merino/Yak variegated 2-ply

But now we come to the moment of truth about my personal feelings about yarn — the statement that’ll doubtless draw all sorts of ire from folks who feel otherwise. But I’ve been asked, lately, why don’t I spin art yarn, or the new novelties, since I can? And here’s the answer.

Even when it comes to the “stuff I don’t usually spin,” though, it tends to be stuff that COULD be used in something that I might use or wear. I’ve no personal use for accent yarns, yarns that are tied together, yarns that have inclusions that can’t be knit, crocheted, or woven, and lacking a use for such yarns, I find them unsatisfying and boring to produce. They’d be destined for a life of nothingness; they would never become a Something. Yarn that can’t become a Something is, to me, a premature death, and choosing to do it intentionally feels to me like if I killed my kitten and had her stuffed so she would stay cute and small forever, instead of maturing into an older, larger, less playful cat, and eventually a grand old lady who must be cared for carefully like the aged queen she is, her prime only memories of running and jumping and hunting that linger sweetly while we feed her soft food because most of her teeth are gone. I wouldn’t rob my beloved pet of a life, even knowing it means time will pass and everything will fade; I can’t rob my yarn of that either.

Creating yarn that is intended to stop at a point of having become yarn feels to me like stopping short of having the nerve it takes to create things that will be used, flying audaciously in the face of the passage of time and the wear and tear all things must endure until they can take no more. It’s a stuffed animal, a posed photo of a make-believe family at a theme park — it’s not a living, breathing pet, or a memory of a real trip to Disneyland. It falls short for me, lacks depth and impact. It may be pretty, it may be cool, it may be interesting, but to me it isn’t yarn, because to be yarn is to be potential which you act on. You have to be able to act on it, or it isn’t yarn. That doesn’t mean it isn’t cool — just that it isn’t yarn to me, and it doesn’t sit right with me at a core level for me to produce that.

Productivity Report, 10 Jan 2007; Sock Yarn

So help me, yesterday I hardly did anything. Why? I was hammered by oral surgery. Er, literally hammered, even — turns out that’s part of getting an implant into your jaw. Ugh. But the worst is over, I think. Today, too, will be lean on productivity, since I’m going to a different dentist as well. What fun.

I did spin a while in the waiting room. In the evening, I worked on a little more “comfort spinning” — stuff that’s easy to do and that’s going to be for me, namely, the orange sock yarn. I got one bobbin more or less full:

and decided that I’d make it be 2 plies of this orange merino/tencel, and one ply from a tussah silk I dyed that got a little roughed up:

And in this way, a little interest shall be added to the yarn and the resulting socks. If, upon getting bobbin #2 to the same fullness as bobbin #1, there’s some merino/tencel left over, I’ll make that third single one that alternates and has bits of the merino/tencel in it as well as the tussah, of which there is only one ounce. But I think that should be fine regardless.

So perhaps some of you are saying to yourselves, “wait, a 3-ply sock yarn?” It seems a lot of handspun sock yarns these days are not really what I feel a sock yarn should be. I’m particularly feeling this way as I crank out misshapen tubes which could potentially be socks, using the autoknitter. Many of the commercial sock yarns aren’t doing what I feel they should; and I’m seeing some things people are spinning to be sock yarn that don’t measure up to what I want a sock yarn to do.

It’s not just a matter of materials; it’s not just a matter of thickness. There’s how it’s spun, what kind of wear it’ll take, how springy it is, if it’s going to bounce back… all sorts of elements. So I’m taking soft materials, spinning them tight and smooth, and then plying 3 plies together, because a 3-ply yarn comes out rounder than a 2-ply yarn. Being smooth and soft, it’ll feel nice on my feet; being round and so bouncier, it’ll be comfy to walk on; and being firmly spun and plied, it’ll hold up to being machine-knit, worn, washed, and everything. And i want to be able to wear these socks with my regular shoes, so they can’t be thick and chunky and uneven.

Real sock yarn is time-consuming to spin, even for me; and it lasts in ways that make it worthwhile. I’ll be surprised if I have this sock yarn done tonight. I might finish the spinning, but certainly not the plying.

Autoknitter Socks, and Some Productivity, and Milestones

Well, yesterday I turned 35, which seems somehow implausible, but there it is. It was a very pleasant birthday.

I seamed toes of a few autoknitter socks, and tried some to-be-seamed ones on after that to see if I really felt like grafting the toes, or if I would rather rip and reknit them. This, too, allowed me to determine what I really want to be spinning for in yarn for the sock machine. It can handle a wide variety of things; but I’d like to get some socks I’m really going to wear. To that end, I have some issues to resolve, and these can be handled in various ways including yarn customization.

Sock #1: Austermann Marina. This was a discontinued superwash merino yarn I bought a bunch of on sale some time ago. Very soft, very springy. Makes a great sock on this machine, as it turns out, but there are issues with the toe on this one — too much fabric. I could see about shortening the foot portion of the sock, and simply blocking… but with it being superwash, and as springy as it is, a better solution would be to figure out how to narrow the tow and round it a little more.

I actually really like this sock, and will seam up the mate to it, and they’ll be wearable. Using the different colour yarn for heel and toe made it easy to see where I wanted to graft and various other things about the sock structure.

Sock #2: handspun falkland/silk 2-ply. Sigh. This yarn will make fabulous socks, but I was way too loose. So I’m going to seam up the other one and try to shrink ’em and felt ’em a bit.

Sock #3: handpainted laceweight merino/silk 2-ply (commercial, handpainted by me). Think Jaggerspun Zephyr, if you’re familiar. This one I tried on before seaming, having really high hopes for it. And this pair, this pair is the winner. I will definitely wear these socks.

So for me, right now, the easy way out is to spin a nice 5000-6000 ypp wool blend yarn, and crank the socks out fairly tight, to roughly the formula I used on the third pair of socks in this photo. That determination being made, I went up to the yarn room and grabbed some ball of orange merino-tencel top I had picked up somewhere…

and get started spinning some singles for a 3-ply sock yarn…

Should be nice and toasty. And I’ll keep practicing and thinking about how to make good socks with, you know, not laceweight type yarn.

Oh, this morning I was charmed by Edward opting to wear his favourite shirt to school. It’s a shirt I made him last year, so I took a few pictures quick before he outgrows it.

Criss-Crossing Wind-on for Low Whorl Spindle

Here’s one good way to start winding yarn onto a low whorl or bottom whorl spindle, shown with a dowel-and-a-drawer-pull make-it-yourself spindle:

With spindle on its side so it’s easy to control, just wrap the end of your yarn or leader around it in one direction:

Go several wraps up, tightly. You can hold the yarn on with one hand and wrap the yarn with your other hand, just to get started. You can also tie the yarn to the spindle, or make a half-hitch at the top of the shaft and slide it down, then twirl the spindle to get the yarn wound up the shaft a few times.

Once you’ve gone several wraps up — the exact number isn’t important — grasp the spindle in one hand and the yarn in the other. Hold the spindle upright, and twirl it — see how the yarn wants to wind on? If it doesn’t want to wind on and it’s slipping, you need to do the first wrapping bit more tightly.

Now, move the hand holding the yarn down, so the yarn that’s about to wind on the next time you twirl the spindle is aiming downwards at an angle.

Once you get to where the yarn is wrapping around the bottom of the shaft, by the top of the whorl, move the hand holding the yarn upwards, so the angle of the yarn winding on changes. Keep twirling, and let the yarn wind upwards.

Now you just keep doing this, twirling the spindle and moving the yarn-holding hand up and down, watching the angle of wind-on and making sure it keeps criss-crossing. For the initial example, I’ve shown it with a fairly steep angle so it’s easy to see; but you can wind it at a much shallower angle, especially once you’re started:

You’ll get the best results and most stable cop (the yarn wound onto your spindle) if you pile up yarn towards the bottom, and then later the middle, so that the narrowest part of your cop is towards the top. This is easy to achieve: just linger a little longer towards the bottom. It may seem to happen for you without you doing anything special.

When you get to where you have 1-2 feet of yarn left to wind on and that’s all, let your upward wind-on keep going all the way up the shaft.

At the top, secure it with a half hitch and you’re good to go, whether you’re plying or spinning. This works in whatever direction you wish to twirl the spindle — but bear in mind you’ll need to keep going the same direction throughout.

Related Items:

More Autoknitter!

I spent the weekend largely on the autoknitter, and have been rewarded with this:

Socks to finish

In case it’s hard to tell, that’s a grand total of 5 pairs of socks. Now, frankly, I think I’m going to get 3 pairs for real, and end up ripping the other 2. I have another pair mid-rip — some of my temporary “hold this till I can fix it and see if it’s really worth fixing” solutions make ripping annoyingly slow so I haven’t finished ripping ’em yet.

By the end of Friday night, I had managed to finish the cranking portion of a Proof of Concept Sock!

Proof of Concept Sock

Lest anyone be unfamiliar with the term, “proof of concept” is one that I came to via the software world — it’s a roughed-in, not fully fleshed example that, well, proves the concept can work, without doing all the real work involved in the final product. Basically, it’s a functional rough draft that has issues. This proof of concept involved one skein of Patons Kroy, a healthy dose of skepticism mixed with perseverance, and some blind faith. I was absolutely positive that I was misreading the 1922 instructions which stated “The toe is worked exactly the same as the heel, save that in the second half [a one-stitch difference].” I wasn’t, but my execution remains off. The toe is just not as round as I thought, which is actually fine.

Blaze SwatchAfter the Proof of Concept sock, I daringly worked a tube from a thing of handspun that I had sitting on my end table, which I’d wanted to swatch as a stockinette item regardless, and which, hey, this’d be a lot faster! And from that, I concluded that indeed, my handspun yarn splits a heckuva lot less than millspun, sheds less, wears better, and actually, thinner yarn was easier for me to see — so even if I didn’t get useable socks, I resolved to do a little more practice with thinner yarn.

Falkland Silk BlendAnd as far as other decisions/lessons learned by Friday night, I had concluded that the 1922 manual, which definitely has an opinionated tone regarding “the cleverness of the operator” and so forth, had a good point about not letting your work run off the machine, and I concluded that the overused purple Patons Kroy with which I had practiced would be just the thing to use to prevent my work from running off the machine. Although this raises other logistical questions, but that’s for later. But that’s why the pile of socks in the chair above looks rather more like a giant tube with funny lumps and oddly placed stripes. Stripes of waste yarn are used as sock delimitors and in lieu of having to do any setup. Even though I have significantly improved my speed with the setup bonnet.

I’m still a ways from ready to put the ribber attachment on. There remain too many things I need t be able to watch the inside of my tube-in-progress for, and the ribber would block that view. Not to mention too many times I’m dropping stitches and too much I’m still learning about tension, weight, stitch length, yarn selection and how it changes the aforementioned things, and I think I have my sequencing off on the heel thing, so for a while it’s going to be purely stockinette socks with hemmed tops or else I’ll separately knit on ribbing, or do a crochet edge atop the sock.

Lots more photos here, lots of things I’ve been messing with as I go…

Autoknitter Photo Gallery