Workshop Prep!

March continues to bring all sorts of excitement. Yesterday’s news, for instance, said “Flooding is almost guaranteed in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region, he said. The Little and Great Miami rivers and the Ohio River could hit flood stage or rise above…” and this morning, quite a bit of flooding, even nearby, is being reported. We’re atop a rise on higher ground and our drainage is good, but it’s wet. Here’s my office window view the past few days:


It was raining so hard I drove the boy to the end of the driveway to wait for the school bus (no school closing for him, as our district is not one of the ones underwater). He snapped this photo of our swamped main storm drain that leads to a nearby creekbed (which is normally almost dry).

It’s been 4 or 5 inches of rain in the past 24 hours, apparently. Oh, the melodrama! Just… not enough to scare the bus drivers.

And time for work, too, Mom.

Pay no mind to the almost-finished objects and works in progress and so on, standing taller than my monitor and threatening to crush me. I won’t be getting to any of those today. No, today is a workshop preparation day. This seems, to me, not odd at all, because I grew up doing it — but at the same time, I think my upcoming workshops at The Spinning Loft in Howell, Michigan are the first I’ve done in over a decade, so it’s been a while.

Working with Beth has been fabulous; she’s given me accurate head counts all along the way, kept me posted on any special needs, gathered things she’s got questions about dealing with the topics at hand, and let me know what sort of things she keeps on hand just in case. She’s asked all the smart questions about space needs and class configuration and setup. It’s hard to believe she hasn’t been hosting workshops for decades; she’s on the ball about this.

The bulk of my fibers for my two workshops arrived last night, and today I’m divvying them up into packets. I find that doing these in advance, student by student, streamlines the in-class time for certain types of classes. I always do enough for the signed up students, plus me, plus two, plus I try to have extra random leftovers of various things. Having packets ready, plus extra, plus leftovers, is especially important if a material is hard to find, specialized, or requires advance setup (like warps for a weaving class). Unforeseen things happen. If someone spills his coffee right into his pile of materials, having more is a win. And what if there are extra people who show up? Let’s just say I’d rather have overprepared than underprepared. Nobody ever left a class upset that there were too many supplies, but too few? That’s a problem.

I could just take this heap of pencil roving and distribute it in class — and sometimes, I’d do exactly that. But we’ve got a full group and lots of material to cover and it’ll be easier to be able to say “Now, take your pencil roving — that’s THIS” and hold up my sample, “and do THIS with it.” So I’m divvying it up.

Then I do the same with the other fibers planned, and put together a packet.

Well… 15 packets, plus extra bits.

And that’s the fiber for the evening spindle class! We have three very nice pencil rovings, a medium wool top, a coarser carded brown wool in industrial sliver, and some fine wool. This selection gives me room to work with spinners at all skill levels from “never touched fiber before, not sure what a spindle is” to the likes of Faina “Forest Path Stole” Letoutchaia, who I’m sure will be ready with a basket of overripe tomatoes just in case I don’t have answers for her about something.

(NB: Faina is one of my favourite yarn people. We wisecrack with each other, but don’t mistake it for anything other than good-natured! I’m hoping she’ll stay after class and show me a spindle trick or two with the Russian spindle, a tool which… well, I don’t think I even own one right now, we’ll put it that way.)

Selecting fiber for the sock class was a different sort of exercise. As we were discussing in “Spinning for Socks: Why?” there are many things that make a given pair of socks ideal. With this class, I want to not only teach students how to spin sock yarn like the millspuns they may be buying to knit socks with, but give them an opportunity to think about what more is possible.

So, we’ve got your basic soft, fluffy Merino top, and we’ll talk about how to get a bouncy, lofty, squishy sock yarn with it, like some of the American and Japanese brands. We’ve got a few natural shades of Blue Faced Leicester, and we’ll get into harder-wearing sock yarns with these, like some popular millspuns from Europe. And then we have a few blends, like the Karaoke merino/soysilk blend featured in “Spinning for Socks: Colour!, and…

…some of my drum-carded luxury sock blends, and a bit of that pencil roving, and a longwool, and… yeah. Lots of stuff. And I should be finishing making the packets, instead of sitting here blogging in the dreary rain, warily eyeing the increasingly sodden back yard and exclaiming, “Holy crap, is that a new stream in the neighbours’ horse pasture?”

It’s my hope that people will leave this day-long workshop with the tools to spin the sock yarn they really want, and with some food for thought about socks in general, and what they’d like to get out of their socks, and how they can produce custom yarns that make that more possible than the mill does.

I’ve still got to make a handful of spindles for folks to try in the spindle class, and make sure I’ve got enough for folks to choose one to take home, and I have to put together student folders with the paper handouts. And I have a few more samples to spin to be handed around, and the ones dealing with colour need to be wrapped so they show how the colour works. If this series goes well, I’ll probably want to extend the show-and-tell materials, and have actual socks to pass around if I do this one again, much. Indeed, workshop prep can take as much time as the workshop itself!

Spinning for Socks: Colour

When I said the next post up in the sock yarn series would talk about colour, Sara playfully asked:

colour?? colour? Of what do you speak? Are you *that* close to Canada that u’s have infiltrated??

There are quite a few ways to address this, such as reminding Sara that I’ve never known her to avoid Canadian contact, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Indeed, some of my favourite fiber folks are Canadian (and probably yours too!) But well, yes, there is evidence of Canada invading Ohio. I could go on at some length about this evidence — there’s plenty — but the really telling piece is simply this business listing in the Yahoo! yellow pages.

That’s right, folks, there is a Tim Horton’s within 10 miles of my home (or do I mean within 16 kilometers? Nah, the invasion is still not complete). Indeed, there are a dozen Tim’s in a 25-mile radius. So there’s no way this is a coincidence, any more than that Tim’s in Afghanistan is a coincidence. I haven’t seen Canadian troops… or have I? How would I know? Hrmmm. Perhaps they’re responsible for the periodically suspicious niceness I keep encountering. Perhaps they’re the reason my Kroger has been sold out of Wasabi-Soy almonds for the past 6 weeks or so — Denny may be sending them down after nuts, and leaving none for me.

But in any case, Sara, the bottom line is that for reasons I can’t pin down, I have always apparently been a Canadian speller. I do enjoy the use of colour, but I realize (instead of realising as our friends across the pond might do) that in the fiber arts (not fibre arts) we often use it somewhat haphazardly. So in this bit about spinning for socks, we’ll talk about using it in planned ways, in the spinning stages, rather than in the dyeing stages. And I think we’ll do it using some fiber that came my way via some Canadians — Southwest Trading Company’sKaraoke, now distributed by Louet North America, a 50/50 blend of merino and soy silk. It comes in white, and three predyed handpainted colours; we’ll be working with the colours today.

These colour techniques work with any multicolour top or roving, and can be extended to work simply having multiple colours instead of a handpaint (in which there’s one top or roving with different colours on it in sequence) ; we’ll have a few examples of those as well.

Well then, let’s get to it.

There are a couple of interesting things to point out about this fiber. I know, it looks like a mish-mash of contrasting colours in a random placement — but it isn’t.

You may need some floor or a counter to spread things out on to see it, but there’s order and a clear colour sequence. You can preserve this and depend on it when you’re spinning, and (lest it not be obvious) make choices like this when you handpaint your own fiber as well. This is convenient for socks if you want to more or less match up the colour shifts between both socks. Start by lining up your fiber into two like parts, as you see above.

Once I’ve lined the colours up, you can see there’s some fiber that comes after the end, or before the beginning, of the full colour sequences we have laid out. I broke off this excess, and set it aside for later. You can also see that what I have is two folded pieces of top, right? And the ends are in either extreme of the colour sequence. Hrmmm.

Solved! Now I have four similar lengths of top where the colours are all pretty neatly lined up the same. Some of you, I’m sure, have already seen where this is going. These aren’t totally identical lengths, but hey, they’re close enough for government work. That’s right — government work on self-striping sock yarn! Hey, it could happen.

So now let’s divvy this up further. I’m going to take the top one, and the third one, and put them together; and then I’m going to take the second one, and the bottom one, and put them together. Each of these pairs will become an individual skein of two-ply yarn. Here’s what we do:

1. Start at the blue end of length 1, and spin it onto one bobbin.
2. Start at the blue end of length 3, and spin it onto another bobbin.
3. Ply these bobbins together.
4. Repeat steps 1-3 using the remaining 2 lengths.
5. Admire your results.

Now, if you look closely, you’ll see places where there’s one ply of blue and one ply of yellow, or one ply of yellow and one ply of pink, or just in general, places where the colours don’t like up perfectly. Click here for the honkin’ huge version of the photo if you need to look closer — there are sticky notes on it to point out these marled (or barberpole, depending on your terminology preferences) sections.

Yes, you could have made them line up more closely by using fiber lengths 1 and 2, and then fiber lengths 3 and 4; but if you had done that, would you have had two skeins that matched as closely? Nope. But, maybe that’s what you wanted, instead of having marled sections. The choice is yours!

Well, allright then. What if you didn’t have a handpainted fiber with that clear and consistent colour sequence, but you still want to pretty much match things up? Don’t despair! This is a great example of a time when you might want to split your top.

Now I have two narrower strips where the colours do line up. I can split these again, and follow the first set of instructions… or, you know what? I could just spin singles from these two, and chain ply.

I pulled tufts off the end here, which I then spun from the fold, muddying up colours a tiny bit. Then I took those bobbins of singles, and chain plied them (some folks call it Navajo plying). Paimei helped.

Good thing we had that snow day so the manchild could snap these photos.

The chain plied example is at top; at bottom is our prior two-ply yarn.

So why would I chain ply anyway? Well, I’m going to be assured of almost no marled areas. My colour transitions are going to be clear-cut and definitive.

It’s also fast, uses all the yarn, never requires lots of extra bobbins, and works to preserve colour shifts even where they’re vague. In other words, I chain ply for reasons of speed and expediency, and for specific colour reasons. I don’t do it for structural reasons (unless we’re talking about using a chained single instead of a plain ol’ single), but we’ll take about that in a later article.

A chain-plied yarn has essentially the appearance of a 3-ply yarn. For most knit applications, it’s indisinguishable from a 3-ply and the structural differences truly are immaterial. If you’re looking for crisp colour shifts, it’s likely what you’re after.

At first glance, the two yarns above — yes, it’s two yarns, from two different colourways — seem incredibly similar, and close enough to match each other gaugewise and everything. And that’s true. But the blue-green-purple at left is a chain-plied yarn in “Mermaid,” while the one at right is a true 3-ply in “Rainbow.” Observe…

I spun the “Rainbow” fine, blurring the colours a little (we’ll get to that) and here’s a bobbin of single. I did three such bobbins, after splitting a length of top in thirds — just like how I did it above splitting it in half, only I split it into rough thirds. Since it can be hard to eyeball that kind of thing, the colour shifts didn’t line up particularly well once it came to plying.

See? We’re getting some marl effect happening. But you know…

…I kinda like that.

Yeah. Yeah, there’s definitely lots of marling, and it’s a 3-way effect, not just 2-way. YOu can see it wonderfully on the left side of the photo.

Now, you can get marling with chain plying too.

See? This is that same chained single, and you can see that the single has some barberpole effect, and then so does the ply.

Let’s back up a tiny bit, by the way. I almost forgot to say that there is no reason you have to preserve colourways. We’re just talking a bit about how you can. Observe…

At left, our colour-preserved yarns; at right, a 2-ply yarn in which I did nothing whatsoever to make two bobbins line up colours or what have you. That’s right — nothing. In some places it did, in some places it marled, and it’s all totally random. This works very nicely with analogous colour combinations (that’s when, if you were looking at them on a colour wheel, they’d be right next to each other — as Beth would say “more blendy!”) But results can be more startling and perhaps less pleasing to the eye if you’ve got a colour combination with stronger contrasts.

Well, so what if we don’t have a handy-dandy space-dyed or handpainted fiber? What if we have, say, three fibers in different colours, and we’d like to get them all in there?

You know, like these guys.

I can just take the ends, and spin from them going straight across. That’ll preserve the colour shifts cleanly, or…

I could also press them closer together, and draft from the end a bit, creating a bit more blurring. I could predraft these together, too, and then spin the resulting fibers.

So what if I find myself getting just one colour coming out?

Yeah, that can happen. So I’ll just stop spinning that colour, and break off…

Then I can just start spinning again from a different colour.

You know, I can do this from the fold as well.

I don’t have to leave my finger in there — once it’s drafting, it’s good to go.

I’m going to get blue, then white, then grey, and in between, the colours will blur from one to the next. And then I can chain-ply if it I want to preserve that colour sequence, which I can also make up as I go along. I mean, I can just grab whatever fiber I feel like, and spin a bit.

You know, there’s something useful about doing this on a spindle, too. If I want to be confident that I’m getting the same length of yarn each time, I can be pretty sure of that with a spindle, because the lengths I’ll spin between wind-ons are likely to be similar. So I might spin two wind-ons each of blue, then grey, then white, then blue, then grey, then white… and then do that again for a second single… and then ply those. That’s going to be some very closely aligned 2-ply self-striping yarn.

You can do that on a wheel, but it’s harder to track than it is with a spindle. This is also a great way to use up odds and ends of leftover fiber, and make them into a striping yarn.

Okay folks, there’s one other thing to let you know about the fiber I used in these examples, in case you’re going to use it too.

Oh boy. That looks bad, doesn’t it? Well, I have to say, this is something I’ve encountered with soy silk (and remember, this fiber is half soy silk). I think it’s particularly pronounced here because this is a blend, and the dye exhausts at different rates. What seems to have happened is that a bit of excess dye has piled up in the soy silk; it’s exhausted from the dyebath but it’s not fully bonded to the fiber. Well, synthetics can be a bit tricky to dye. You can do a few things about this.

I discovered the problem when I went for the hot-cold fulling wash — you know, the “Judith Says” wash, of which I’m also a proponent. I encountered it a few minutes after starting the super-hot soak. Once said soak was completed, I rinsed in super-cold water, till the water ran clear. Then I repeated the super-hot soak, and less dye came out. Again, it rinsed clear in the cold, and there was no dye hitting the other colours in the yarn, thankfully. I gave it one more super-hot soak, and it was clear. I wrapped up with one more cold soak and the ol’ beating of the yarn.

Here’s before…

and here’s after.


and after.

If you’re going to do the abusive wash, this is a good way to deal with excess dye. In fact, the possibility of excess dye is another good reason for the abusive wash, when you get right down to it. Wouldn’t you rather know now, and be able to take steps to do something about it now, rather than after you knit socks and then washed them in with some other clothes or something? I know I would.

Excess dye, while not ideal, is a fact of life. Blues and reds are the most common culprits (and blacks, but those are often dyes which contain blues), and man-made fibers are by and large more prone to dyeing peculiarities in non-industrial processes, at least in my experience. While every dyer at any scale of operation makes every attempt to avoid having any such issue altogether, sometimes it’s not entirely possible to address it at one given stage rather than another, and sometimes you can’t even spot it until you reach a specific stage. Fiber is a particularly vulnerable stage of things, especially if you’re talking about a blend of a fine, easily felted fiber such as merino and a more resilient man-made fiber such as soy silk; you can really ruin fiber by subjecting it to a treatment like the one I use for finishing yarn. And sometimes yarn is too vulnerable, so you need to solve the problem in the fabric or the garment stage. Plus, sometimes you encounter it in storebought clothes! So, what’s a textile nerd to do?

I keep Synthrapol on hand. If I’m in doubt, I do a cold wash with Synthrapol — and I do it with off-the-rack clothing of certain types as well (say, blue jeans). So what’s this product I’m talking about? Paula explains it really well. Honestly, I believe this is a product that has a place in the household of even the textile non-geek; it’s there to keep you from turning the whites pink by accident, and so on.

Other than my abusive removal of excess dye, other than a wash with Synthrapol… you know, sometimes things really are HAND WASH COLD – DRY FLAT. That’s often partly because of industrial processes not doing what they could potentially do to eliminate any running issues or what have you, but sometimes it really is the best idea. There are many variables; to be sure you know what will happen, this is a reason why I like to recommend testing by spinning samples, finishing them, swatching them, and then subjecting the swatch to the care intended for the finished object. It’s sort of the yarn or fiber version of pre-shrinking your yardage of fabric before you cut your pieces for a garment that you’re sewing. It’s a good idea.

Anyway, back to the sock yarn.

Top: chained single. Bottom: 2-ply. At first glance, the same yarn — right? But they aren’t. We’ll talk more about that in part 3 of this series, Structure!

March 11

Dear Ed,

You know, I can’t believe it’s really been so long. It doesn’t feel like it, but then the list of things we haven’t talked about yet is definitely four years long. It’s hard to believe everything that’s happened.

First of all, you know the Red Sox won the series, right? Of course you do; we all figured you made that a priority. And you remember that yellow house, the one a few doors down? Well, we bought it, just like you said we should do if it ever came on the market. It was a nice place. We moved your prickly pear cactus there too, but there wasn’t a great spot for it so we put it by the cherry tree, since you always liked cherry trees.

And then there was my soul-sucking job — you remember the one. It’s not that it was a bad job exactly, it’s just that it was killing me, slow and sure. Things just kept getting more unhappy in Silicon Valley, you know? Your grandson had a terrible time in school and we were all just miserable. So we left! That was about two years ago. We just decided that, one way or another, we were heading back east, and I was going to do something fibery for work. So it’s Ohio, near Chad’s folks, and — of course — this house is also yellow. Yellow houses for the win, huh? I finally got that Taylor guitar. I think about you when I sit on the porch with it, playing and singing and drinking a beer.

Man, you know, my old lady Inanna cat kicked the bucket too. That was last year. She was a damn good cat. She was a lot happier here in Ohio, too — that wheezing allergy thing went away and everything. California never did agree with her. With any of us, I guess. Most of us are out, now — there’s just my sister hanging on there.

You can’t believe how big your grandkids are. Every time I talk to Quilla on the phone I realize she’s a teenager, or might as well be. And my son has bigger feet than I do now. He can mow the lawn on the riding mower — really. Every time I’m getting all motherly nervous about stuff, Chad reminds me to think about the things you taught me to do, and what would Ed say?

I wonder that a lot, you know — what would you say? I want to call you up and ask for your opinions and tell you the scoop on my life, all the time. I want to show you all my yarn projects, and still have some of those arguments with you. I ought to tell you you were right and you told me so about some of it, too. I’m teaching more, and writing stuff. In fact, you know, funny story — I got a check from Interweave a bit ago, for a Spin-Off article, and when I was looking at the stub I noticed I had a vendor ID. It said “FRANQ1002.” I guess FRANQ1001 was taken, huh? I guess I really am a chip off the old block. I like to think you’d be proud. Sometimes I can almost hear your voice saying “Attagirl!” like I was 7 or 8 and you were the age I am now.

In my mind’s eye you never got any older than that, you know, not even the day you died, four years ago today in the early afternoon on the Connecticut seashore with Canada geese coming home. We have Canada geese here in Ohio, and I think of you every time I see them. Hell, I think of you every day. And man, I wish you were still around. I still hate it that you died. I still find it darkly amusing, too, to bear in mind that it was fibrous growths in your bone marrow… you know. Fiber. In your bones. That took over your blood and did you in. “Leave it to Ed to be killed by a fiber disease,” we’ve scoffed, in morbid Franquemont fashion, joking about the inappropriate, because sometimes that’s the best course of action.

Well, Pop, it really is a load of crap. I was counting on you getting to be an old geezer, y’know? And I know; you said you were sorry. It’s not what you’d have chosen. I wouldn’t have been ready for it whenever it happened. But it seems surreal, you know? To realize time marches on, relentlessly; to know that no matter how any of us felt when you died, the world didn’t really stop. Days and weeks and months and YEARS, yes, years have passed. Like I say, I hope you’d be proud of what I’ve been doing with them. You left a few threads hanging here and there and I’ve tried to pick up a few of your dropped stitches, but you not being here is still worse than mothholes.

Love always,


P.S. If you see any of those old cats give ’em a cuddle from me. I hope it’s nice where you are, and there’s lots of great projects to work on, great bleacher seats for the important ball games, great music and all the time in the world to read whatever you feel like. We all still miss you here.

P.P.S. Yeah — I know. I said “you know” a lot. Totally subconscious, I swear, and yes, I do remember you telling me your mother broke you of that habit by saying “Yes I do know,” every time you said it. See, I was paying attention. I swear I was.

So, did you get any snow?

I was dubious Friday morning when the word was going around that we were to be struck with the cold white hammer of wintry weather. That’s because, at about 8AM, it looked like this.

Grey and overcast, sure. But that’s how we got the flooding earlier in the week, the lingering results of which can be seen in the murky dip in the back yard. Nonetheless, the manchild — who agreed to assist me with blogging since school was closed — and I headed out to the market to stave off the risk of him being snowed in with parents who were out of beer.

The wind was getting whippy and a little precipitation was beginning. Edward pointed out I needed my scarf. I retrieved it, and we headed out. Really, although it was grey and chilly, everything was still quite ordinary.

But you can see they were being generous with the salt in our township, even though other nearby towns were reporting that they had run out of salt for the roads.

Really, just grey.

We made it to the store just fine. The parking lot was fairly full, but tidy enough. Actual snow was just beginning to fall.

No doubt about it: Mom was going to need a big coffee. One is almost always acquired when passing this space, ever since they turned the supermarket into a Kroger Marketplace, an absolutely massive store that features… everything.

Is that a tight-lipped smile? Will a giant mocha improve things? Here’s hoping — it’s bound to be necessary to fight the throngs.

You can really see the enthusiasm pouring out of both of us.

Yes. Tortellini. And more coffee needed.

This is perhaps Edward’s favourite part of the store — the giant tape dispenser and the post-its that say “Pick up milk,” right next to the aisle endcap full of “Spirit Wear,” also known as t-shirts and jackets and such like emblazoned with LEBANON WARRIORS.

Most of the other people there were clearly moms who’d expected to be at work, but instead, were taking all the kids to the market, in case the milk ran out. You have to buy milk, bread, and toilet paper, apparently. Chad’s parents had explained this to me — when they moved here after living in colder, snowier climes, they discovered that indeed, if a big snow was predicted, the markets would in fact run out of those things.


At the Kroger, you can get toys. And furniture, housewares, bedding, books, and sushi, but hey — Legos and Star Wars crap, mom!

And beer. Let us not forget the beer. That’s what sent us out — beer, to keep the parents in line. Elizabeth, you asked about the kegerator. It’s just fine; however, the keg that goes in it… is empty. And it’s normally a weekend thing to pick up more, when we run out through the week. This is the “out of beer” situation: an empty keg.

Okay, we’re almost ready. The cart is full of stuff for chili, tacos, and pasta; we’ve replenished the canned soup; there is Boddingtons, hurrah! Just a few more important staples to check on — oh, and do you see the salt (for melting snow on your walkway) and snowshovels? You can get everything at the Kroger Marketplace.

This is an important source of caffeine for fathers.

What should be here is not here. It has not been here for some time, like since January. However, I remain heartened by the fact that the tag listing its price still has not been removed. Surely if the product were not to return, the tag would also go away.

My son knows as much about these things as I do about yarn, I suspect. Denny’s kid can probably fill us in on the details as well. As a mom, my knowledge of Lego type objects is super-outdated, and I can really only say “bad weather cabin fever rainy day distraction type thingy.”

And while you’re browsing magazine covers while the guy in front of you buys a snow shovel, you can rest easy knowing that your kid won’t be asking about anything untoward from the cover of Cosmo.

We’re out safe, and Trucky is waiting, lightly dusted with snow.

Mom is so amused.

Yes. Ice. Thank you, Trucky. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

Heading down the main drag where the car dealerships are — there’s one of these in every town above a certain size — we can see snow starting to stick.

Roads are fine, though. It’s been about 45 minutes since we left the house.

And here, on the main fast-food-restaurant drag, we realized that visibility was definitely worsening.

Things were still okay down our country road…

…but it’s good to be home.

One of the things Chad pointed out to me about a truly modern — as in not in a cabin in rural New Hampshire — lifestyle in a part of the world which has winter (albeit typically mild winter) is that you can have an attached garage. You pull your vehicle right into the garage, and you’re already essentially indoors. Really. Basically no scraping ice and shoveling out the car. We live like kings.

Gentle reader from a truly snowy area, please understand that even what you see here could potentially be enough to cause snow days. This is gritty, icy, slushy snow in pellets and flakes, and not everyone knows how to deal with it.

“If that keeps up all day,” we all agreed, “We might really get that foot of snow.”

Plus it’s the blowy kind.

Ahhhh, a snow day.

By lunchtime, it was still coming down, still blowing hard, and making interesting drifts.

And this is noon, people, not dusk. Look, the driveway’s hiding.

By dusk, we were well-blanketed, and it was still coming down, harder than ever, even. “They’re saying till tomorrow night,” Chad said when we went to bed. I turned off the alarm.

I was awakened by a very enthusiastic 10-year-old. “MOM!” he stage-whispered, “Come right now, into my room, and you can see, you can really see, how much snow has fallen. And it’s still snowing! And it’s not just a trick! Come see come see come see come see!”

Yes. Before the coffee, little man. I’m on my way.

Why, that’s enough snow to make an undercaffeinated mom say, “It’s even taller than the mess in your room!”

The dad, in his wisdom, proposed an outing to see the snow.

This bare spot was really interesting — it’s definitely the wind-whipped part of the lot, but this corner of house was quite un-snowy. Which is good, because it’s where we get Trucky out of the garage.

The driveway, though, was buried under almost a foot.

Our road had, however, been plowed.

Even so, drifting snow had accumulated in this hollow.

The main road into town was pretty clear.

This shortcut, not so much. Incidentally, the poor people with the house at left in this photo — their fence is constantly being hit by cars. Constantly. All year round, once a month, someone’s tagged it. It’s amazing. I would have been tempted to replace the fence with Jersey barrier by now.

Here’s where you’d get off the highway. In other words, we’re on the highway.

In case you were ever wondering why they label the exits with arrows and whatnot.

Chad proposed breakfast.

Amazingly enough, the Bob Evans was open. The service manager and one waitress were making it happen. We were very grateful.

And here’s the fast food drag again, not 24 hours later — complete with a car spinning its wheels attempting to get across the road.

So quiet.

Had this been me, I would not have been being quiet. I would have been cursing up a storm.

Here’s that main drag with the car dealerships, again.

and the Kroger parking lot.

This guy and his buddy were out plowing the parking lot; from the looks of things, by the time they finished it, it was time to start over again at the other side.

So what had they run out of, for real? Well, the breakfast sausage was hit hard…

And the frozen pizza.

Plus pre-grated cheese.

Milk? Restocked.


Good thing we got soda, though…

And it’s a good thing we didn’t need a snow shovel, because at this point, we’d have had to buy a snowblower at the checkout aisle.

This had been plowed clean when we went in.

Here’s what it looked like on the way home:

Can’t tell what’s going on? Let’s try this…

That’s the plow.

This had been freshly plowed when we left the house also — maybe 90 minutes prior?

Our country road, too, had been plowed again since we left… and was now worse than when we left.

Yay, home! I didn’t go out again, but…

…here’s my valiant assistant, in the back yard just before lunchtime. That’s right — you can’t see the fence.

It kept snowing till about 8PM — some 36 hours of nonstop heavy and blowing snow, and it was a bit over a foot (aka 30 cm). Most snow since 1978, apparently.

In like a lion…

About the month of March, it is said that if it comes in like a lion, it’ll go out like a lamb. In other words, if it starts out aggressive and harsh, roaring and terrifying, it’ll end up weak-kneed, bleating and small.

I honestly don’t know how to characterize the start of March. The weekend was mostly mild, but then even as it stayed clear Monday, the news guys were issuing a flood warning and promising us temperatures in the 60s F and the full melting of all our remaining snowbanks. In spite of this, Chad and I mused to each other about “in like a lamb, out like a lion” being a real possibility. I took the manchild out in the afternoon and bought him some new pants (and yeah, I bought myself another pair of fat pants too. Just in case). “Oh, look,” I said as we drove down our dead-end road, “The water company’s doing something.” Arriving home, we discovered it was upgrades to the main that serves the four houses out this way, and the water was off for the entire afternoon while they did it. The laundry began to backlog — never good news. So did the dishes.

Tuesday — primary election day — brought rain, and plenty of it. And sure enough, it was flooding in places, nearby rivers crested over their banks, all the culverts and drainage ditches were swamped, and the drive out to vote was entertaining. Per his request, I waited until the lad was home from school to head out and vote — he’s been following this election avidly, researching candidates online, and listening to the news. The roads were fine, but the nearly 3 inches of rain that fell Tuesday definitely showed, even running across the road in some spots. Not that Trucky cared. Let’s hear it for Trucky!

I’ll take a moment here to say that Trucky, a full-size crew cab pickup, is so named thanks to Chad’s defiance of our son’s assertion that you can’t just name things by using the thing they are and sticking “eee” on the end. This argument seems to have abated, but during the course of it we ended up with no shortage of things named Somethingy — even the trash cans, Rolly (which has wheels) and Draggy (which does not).

In any case, Trucky is unfazed by nasty weather.

We arrived home from democracy in action just as Chad was about to start dinner. He turned on the kitchen sink to wash his hands… and nothing.

“I thought that was yesterday,” he said.

“It was,” I replied, grabbing the notice they’d left on our door. “Hey, I have this number handy…” I dialed it up, and told the man who answered I lived out on our road, and — “And you have no water,” he said, glumly. “Yeah, turns out the main blew out right where we were working on it yesterday. I’m gonna give some credit to all this rain we’re getting. We expect it’ll be back about 6, 6:30.”

Chad made pasta using emergency water. We’re so organizized. Those poor water company guys were out working in a muddy ditch in the middle of a massive downpour till about 9 PM, restoring water service to, like I say, about four houses out this way. The laundry backlog grew again. So did the dish backlog; turns out the water went out before the dishwasher was done. Yecch.

Come Wednesday morning, the rain had turned to ice and sleet for a bit, and then it had snowed a very little. School was delayed an hour. By afternoon, you’d never know any of this drama had happened, except for the washed-out ditches and runoff channels and puddles the size of small ponds. Thursday was so unabashedly ordinary, albeit gray and dreary and muddy, that Chad said to me, “Have you seen the weather report? Are they predicting anything?” and we were both vaguely suspicious not to have heard anything. I picked up pizza for dinner, noticing as I drove home that the roads were freshly brined — an act They wouldn’t be taking, my suspicious mind said, unless They knew something I didn’t. When I checked the forecast on the way to bed, it said something about a 100% chance of precipitation and a winter weather warning and possible emergency in effect from Friday morning through Saturday night. The school web site didn’t say squat about closings, so I disregarded this entirely.

Pager duty kept Chad up all night (have I ever mentioned I don’t really miss computer work?) and he woke me before the alarm, coffee in hand and everything. “Guess what,” he said.


“No school,” he told me. “They’re predicting a foot.” That’s about 30 cm for those of you not in the USA.

I sat straight up in bed and looked out the window. Nothing. Seriously, nothing. Muddy ground and that’s it. But sure enough, the news guys are predicting the biggest snow in over 10 years. All the schools are closed, or closing at noon and sending kids home. The stores are sold out of sidewalk salt, bread, and milk. Therefore, I’m taking Trucky and hitting the store as well — because though we’re well stocked for bread and milk and our plow guy just shows up as if by magic, we are low on beer, plus we used some of the emergency water.

That’s right. I’m planning for being snowed in, because a foot in southern Ohio is epic drama, if it materializes, and I’m not willing to risk running out of beer. The very first few flakes are just starting to fall now, so I’d better get my butt in gear and check things out. I’ll take along a trusty photographer to document the frenzy, and he’ll probably help me blog it throughout the day. He’ll need something to do, after all, and the odds of him being much help with the now-epic laundry backlog are on the slim side.

The New Englander in me, and the cynic, scoff at the whole thing. We’ll see how this goes.

Sick on a Snow Day? Probably Went Outside Without A Hat.

The manchild’s cough kept waking his parents up all night, and his room is at the far corner of the house away from ours. Even before we fully woke up, I think we realized he wasn’t going to school that day. And then, of course, one quick look out the window suggested that, even if he miraculously recovered within the next 30 minutes, we weren’t going to be seeing school buses soon. I got him up, shuffled him downstairs, and parked him to watch the TV news while I made him some hot tea.

He stayed watching it, eyes glued to the crawler, hoping against hope that “2 HOUR DELAY” will turn to “CLOSED.” Personally, I doubted it would — the snow was slowing down and we’d only gotten about an inch — but the truth is the point was moot. He wasn’t going to school that day.

The same could be said for me, however! I might even ultimately be braving the great outdoors. Certainly not before lots more coffee, though, and certainly not with wet hair and no hat (my mother would kill me if I went outside with wet hair and no hat in this weather). As a littler kid, I’d just comply, though by my teens, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a hat, particularly not a handmade one. At our home in New Hampshire, in an bushel basket by the door there was a seemingly limitless supply of hats, gloves, mittens, scarves and the like. We needed that many, of course, because of the following types of events:

  • Wretched daughter wears hat to school in the morning. In the afternoon, she forgets hat and it stays at school. The following morning, when it’s time for said wretched daughter to head out to wait for the bus, another hat must be found.
  • Hat simply cannot be found. It must be on the school bus.
  • While building a snow fort, mittens and hat became incredibly sodden, and are still steaming dry over near the woodstove.
  • One mitten or glove has gone rogue. It probably happened outside, and it’s definitely snowed more since then. We won’t find that till spring.
  • Despite all due care and the following of routine best practices for handling of woolen winter wear, that hat which fell in the driveway, was run over by the car, frozen into a solid plank, then brought inside and carefully thawed and then dried by the woodstove, has shrunk.
  • I can’t wear that hat. It’s pink. Make Molly wear it. She likes pink stuff. (Alternatively, Molly’s version: “I can’t wear that hat! It’s brown! Make Abby wear it, she doesn’t care as long as it isn’t pink!”)
  • Some random person came to the house, hatless, and now plans to leave… thus going outside without a hat. This cannot be allowed.

I made hats back then. There were knitted hats and crocheted hats. My mother made hats, there were hats my grandmother had made, hats that came from the hands of my mother’s aunts, hats of scratchy wool, hats of the finest materials you could imagine, hats of handspun, colourwork hats, hats that matched mittens and gloves, just every imaginable kind of hat (not to mention all the mittens, gloves, and scarves). Even though items from that basket would be lost (totally normal winterwear attrition — these things just happen!), it never seemed like the supply got any shorter. Perhaps that’s because, apparently, in my family we have a multigenerational tradition of simply making winter woolens at random. Or perhaps it’s to do with wearing hats when it’s cold.

As I was writing this, I said to myself, “I bet my mother still won’t let anybody walk outside in the winter without a hat.” So I called her up to ask.

“So I was wondering,” I told her. “You remember the huge basket of hats and gloves and mittens and everything, by the door?”

“Of course,” she said. “In case anybody was going to go out without a hat.” I explained that I was in the middle of blogging about just this fact, and needed to confirm — “Oh! Well, we don’t have it in a basket anymore, but the hall table with drawers and everything is still full of hats, absolutely. And you know, there are some really nice hats in there that nobody’s wearing much right now.”

I told her I remembered the hats and mittens all being handmade; she said this was, indeed, pretty much the case, although nowadays, you’d likely find a few oddments of polar fleece and so forth. “You know what’s a shame,” she said, “is that nobody wears some of my favourites. For example, one of the nicest is that Afghan hat of Ed’s.” We had to discuss that one a while till I was sure which hat that was. “You know, it’s from a heavy twill of some sort, it’s about a foot long and you roll it up…” Then I had to google around for one. Turns out it’s an Afghani Pakol. Indeed, a very nice hat.

“So another thing I was wondering,” I told my mother, “is if, when you were growing up, your mother also had a huge basket of winter woolens.”

“You should call her up and ask,” she suggested. I agreed, and asked if my grandmother had been in on the plot to make sure nobody went outside without a hat on, and what about my great-grandmother? We discussed the problems that are purported to occur due to lack of a hat, or injudicious going outside in the cold (like, you should smile when you do it, lest your face freeze in a frown), and then with a sigh I went to inform the lad he wasn’t going to school regardless. At least he wasn’t missing out on a whole snow day, I told him. He didn’t much care — proof of illness, to be sure.

I must not have made him a good enough hat this year. And even though I churned out probably a half-dozen hats, I still seem not to have one, and I haven’t replaced my better half’s hat from probably 2003. Two hats went to a swap (it was going to be one, but then I wasn’t sure I liked it, and then I got my hat from the swap (for which mine was late) and it was really nice, so I made a second one). Then there’s the manchild’s hat for the year, which I ended up really liking the design of, and re-making in a languishing skein of merino/silk/angora that I’d had lying around… only to decide when all was said and done that the hat was fugly in that yarn, but hey, I’d had the yarn waiting to be used for several years, so at least now it was a hat. So then I started thinking, “You know, this would be a perfect hat to use up that one random skein of millspun space-dyed alpaca that looks like 1970s airline upholstery, but I like it in spite of myself,” and got started making one with that. And that looks great… but the circular needles I had in that size were killing my hands. Therefore, the hat is now sitting half-done next to my comfy chair. Which, I’ll add, is where the yarn is that I should be finishing the cable ply on so I can replace that 2003 hat. And then there’s the “no, really, this one is good enough” version of the manchild’s hat… which is presently the one being worked on, creating a swatching backlog for some other things. Seriously. Plus the colourwork hat I finished, hated, ripped, and restarted.

I guess that the only thing I can really say for all of this is… well, two things. One, I used up some random skeins of yarn that have been taunting me for years. And two, they’re now hats for the hat bin. I’m on my way to growing up, I guess — to taking my place among the matriarchs of my lineage, as the owner of a vast bin of hats, most handknit or crocheted, the majority of those handspun as well.

I can’t help but wonder if my son’s going to need a hat bin when he grows up.

What’s the deal with those heavy spindles marketed for beginners?

From time to time, the question arises: Why are there so many heavy spindles marketed as being “Great for beginners!” and so on? We’re talking about spindles weighing 3-5 ounces (85-140 grams), with big fat dowels for shafts, and generally low whorl. “Would you ever use this thing?” people ask. “Could you?”

Well, sure.

That was a great spindle, and I used it all the time. Its primary purpose was plying, but I spun on it too. I used pretty much no other spindle between the ages of 7 and 10 (I’m 8 in that photo). During that time, I mainly spun weaving yarn — fine, high twist weaving yarn. I’ve no clue what it weighed, but it was probably right in that 100 grams-ish range.

Let me tell you, that spindle was indestructible. It was exactly the kind of thing you’d give to a kid who’s constantly on the go. That spindle knocked around in bags, got crammed into backpacks, dropped from extreme heights (you know, doing stupid yarn tricks), tossed around like crazy, used to thwack sheep, jabbed into the ground, used to pry rocks out of dried mud or dig up a pot shard that looked interesting, used to doodle in the dirt, sift through smoking hot dirtclods to stab a potato baked in a dirt clod oven, oh, I’m sure the list goes on. If you can think of a potential use for a stick, that spindle probably did it. And still got used to spin yarn.

In the USA at that time — let’s say the late 70s and early 80s — spinning yarn was a fairly fringe activity, engaged in by a very small number of people, most of whom either had some fiber animals and were living a farm-type lifestyle, and a few of whom had some sort of academic interest in the pursuit. Knitters were in the closet in those days, crocheters were all about the granny square afghan from Red Heart, and weavers occasionally spun, but mostly didn’t. If you wanted a spinning wheel, and you found one, it was an antique, or it was most likely a kit-type wheel from Ashford or Louet. As for spinning fiber, well, it came from someone you knew with a fiber animal.

Think about it. There was no Spin-Off; if you were lucky you could find books by Mabel Ross, Allen Fannin, and Peter Teal, and if you were lucky they were about objects you could find, but they generally really didn’t touch on spindles at all. Sometimes you might see a spindle demonstration, but rarely were there classes. I think there were literally four or five dudes who made spinning wheels. You’d hear that in Europe, you could buy fiber and equipment. And all in all, spindles were an afterthought, a curiosity, something that you might use to get started, maybe. If you were getting started at all, in a pursuit that had so few people doing it. I mean, there are probably more people who build fully functioning 1/18 scale gasoline engines, hand-machining their parts, than there were spinners in the USA at that time (and I’ve seen one of these engines at a car show one time, and it blew my mind, but my google-fu fails me. Which clearly points out how few of these hobbyists there are… which is my point). Seriously, nobody spun; and if they did, they didn’t do it with spindles, by and large.

But anyway, without a doubt, most of the 2 dozen or so spindle spinners in the US at that time spun — and taught — with large, heavy, low whorl spindles. There are lots of reasons for this; and first of all, I’m going to send you off on a jaunt over to Jenny’s blog, to read her Ode to a Low Whorl, which eloquently covers many of the fabulous things low whorl spindles offer. Without reiterating too much of what Jenny says, all of which I totally agree with, I’ll present a quick list of benefits of the low whorl:

1. Stability. With the weight at the bottom, low whorl spindles are less vulnerable to interrupted spin than top whorls. A low whorl, if it wobbles, generally keeps spinning; a top whorl with a wobble is more likely to stop sooner or feel really jerky.

2. Sustain. Low whorls are more prone to spin for a long time than high whorls.

3. Slop tolerance. Because of 1 and 2, it’s easier to build yourself a low whorl spindle that will get the job done, than a top whorl. I know I’m not alone in having stabbed a potato with a stick and used it to spin. That works with a low whorl; it doesn’t work so well with a high whorl.

So if you’re building your own spindle — as you would have been before the ready availability of fabulous tools we have nowadays — you’re going to have better luck with a low whorl. It’s also easier to make a low whorl that doesn’t need any other hardware (like a hook) than a top whorl with no additional hardware required.

So what about weight? Well, here’s another interesting thing. What most of the folks who taught anybody to spin with spindles were running into as a huge problem back in ancient history like the 1980s was that spindles would backspin in nothing flat, students wouldn’t catch it, drafting on the fly was giving folks problems, and so anything with more momentum was a help. People weren’t really teaching park and draft then so much. So you needed a spindle that would keep going even if you were spinning chunky thick and thin beginner yarn — and that’s a heavier spindle.

Fast forward a little bit, and there started to be some great information about spinning, much more readily available, and more tools, and a wider range. I personally think Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ High Whorling is an exceptional book about spindle spinning, filled with technique and real useable how-to info; the new edition is called Spinning the Old Way. It’s an excellent book, and really makes spindle-spinning accessible… but it focuses on high whorl spindles! Sometime in the past 10-15 years, we’ve started to see tremendous improvement in the availability of information about how to spin with spindles… but most of it has just not talked about low whorls at all.

What’s more, in that same span of time, suddenly we started being able to get a wide range of fabulous fibers, prepped, dyed, totally ready to spin (again, not something we had back in ancient history like the 70s and 80s). The world of the beginning spinner, and beginning spindle spinner, and heck, spindle spinner or spinner at large, has really changed. What’s available, where, and at what price… much of this is a matter of fashion in the spinning world as it is elsewhere.

So, would I say the heavy low whorl spindle is still the ideal place to start? Well… yes and no. It depends. In a perfect world, you’ll start with some loving handspinner shoving tools and fiber into your hands, demonstrating, taking you shopping, and shepherding you on your way. In an almost-perfect world, you’ll start with something that just speaks to you and makes you want to use it, want to fiddle with it, want to play around. But in reality, you’re probably going to start with whatever it is you first get your hands on. Admit it. We both know it, and it’s okay.

If, then, you find yourself with a heavy low whorl drop spindle in your hands, and folks are telling you it’ll never work, don’t despair! It can; and the truth is, chances are you’re going to feel clumsy and awkward no matter what kind of spindle you have in hand. But down the road, you’ll find yourself acquiring more skill, and as you do, you’ll start to develop your own tastes and preferences. As you spin, too, these will evolve and shift. Eventually a time will come when you likely have a collection of spindles in varying weights and configurations, and you’ll have different feelings about them, and choose from them at will. It’s sort of like having kitchen knives. Do you need a cleaver? Maybe. What about a filet knife? Depends. But I think you need a chef’s knife, a paring knife, carving knife, and a bread knife at a minimum… and learning to use those tools effectively involves different things for each one. So it is for spindles.

What do I start people off with? Honestly, I give ’em fairly heavy, somewhat imperfect low whorl spindles with lgreat durability, explain what makes the spindle work, and tell ’em where to find materials to make variations, and point ’em to local fiber shops or festivals to shop for more, of various kinds… which these days tends to mean “high whorls.” I don’t worry about people finding good info about high whorl spinning, or finding great high whorl spindles; but decent (or any) low whorls and good low whorl technique are harder to come by, so I like to make sure those are things I provide, in addition to the in-vogue high whorl stuff.

So summing up, don’t discard that boat anchor! You may find you really like it down the road. Seriously. I’m not making this up.

Oh… and lest you thought I’d forgotten about the sock yarn series, I have not! Colour is coming up, but I’m waiting on some skeins to dry so I can swatch them and take pictures. Bright, colourful pictures. Why? Because it’s March, by gum, and we could all use a little colour. With or without a U. Hi, Sara.

For those of you coming to Beth’s place in Michigan later this month, I’ll be bringing the upcoming sock yarns, along with fiber for them, and you’ll learn how to reproduce them (among other things).

One last piece of news to report, also: I’m delighted to tell you I’ve been selected as a mentor for Interweave’s 2008 Spin-Off Autumn Retreat! I absolutely can’t wait (but yeah, I know, I have to). It promises to be loads of fun and I’m hoping to see lots of you there. I’ll be teaching a 3-day workshop called Spinning For A Purpose, and four half-day retreat sessions on maximizing spindle productivity. I feel deeply honored to be included in the lineup this year — what a lineup it is! It’s hard to believe it’s barely March and I’m already looking forward to fall.